At 24-year-old, John D. O’Callaghan is doing what he always dreamed of doing as a young lad, helping run the family dairy farm.
Hailing from a small area called Ballymartle, Kinsale in the Rebel county of Cork, John is the third farming generation from within the O’Callaghan household to farm these lands. The family first began farming in the area back in 1965, almost 55 years ago.
“I run our dairy farm with my Dad in a small little place called Ballymartle near Kinsale in Co. Cork.” John explained to Kevin of That’sFarming.
“I'm a third-generation farmer. Dad's parents started farming here first back in 1965 after moving from Barrachauring, near Rylane, Co. Cork.” He added.
The farm is currently run by both John and his father, Jer, after John abandoned a career in Biomedical engineering to make his long-awaited return home. Together, he and his father run a milking herd of 55 British Friesian cows, with a small quantity of Holstein/Friesian crosses thrown in for good measure.
“We mainly stick to British Friesian cows, but we also have a small number of Holstein/British Friesian crosses.”
For John, the interest in agriculture and the dairy sector, in particular, was one developed at a very young age through helping his father on the farm, experiences he wouldn’t trade for the world.
“I have always been interested in farming from a very young age, whether it was feeding the calves while Dad was milking, bedding the cubicles with small bales of straw or drawing in silage with JCB.” John told Kevin Forde of That’sFarming.
“There was always work to be done around the place and I was always involved, sometimes having no choice.” He laughed.
John’s Journey -
Although always planning on retaining an involvement in the sector in the future, John’s plans changed after winning the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition in his second year of school. He and a neighbour developed a home-made SCC test, which claimed the top prize.
“I always intended to stay connected with agriculture in some way or form.” John stated.
“When I was in Second Year in school, we were lucky enough to win the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition.”
“My neighbor, Liam McCarthy, and I developed a homemade test for Somatic Cell Count using washing up liquid. We developed a test kit that could give a farmer an estimation of the SCC of the cow almost instantly in the milking parlour.”
This revolutionary project led the pair going onto represent Ireland in the European Union contest for young scientists, which was held in Paris. The pair came out on top at the awards, claiming first prize at the tender age of 14 and 15.
“We then went on the represent Ireland in European Union Contest for Young Scientists in Paris.” John noted.
“We came 1st in Europe which wasn't bad for a 15 and a 14-year-old.”
(John Pictured above with his mother Aisling and father Jer)
John says this foray into agricultural science sparked an interest in him and he then subsequently decided to study Biomedical Engineering in college upon completing his leaving cert. Luckily for John, his efforts in secondary school didn’t go unnoticed and he received a scholarship to pursue his chosen course.
“This further sparked my interests in Agriculture, Science and Engineering resulting with me deciding to study Biomedical Engineering in college.” John explained.
“I was lucky enough to be awarded a scholarship to study Biomedical Engineering in CIT, which was sponsored by Johnson & Johnson.” John said.
During his studies, John carried out work placements in both Cork and the US, which led to the farmer taking on his first full-time role.
“I completed work placements throughout college in Cork and the USA with JnJ.” John said.
“I worked with them for a further 12 months after graduating in 2017.”
The urge to farm became too much for the Cork man back in July of last year and he finally made his return home to pursue his dream of farming full-time alongside his father.
“Last July, I decided I wanted to spend some time farming full-time. So, I left my job and I am farming at home with Dad now.” He noted.
The Farm -
As mentioned, John and his father, Jer, run a milking herd of 55-British Friesian cows.
Cows are milked in the family’s 6-unit DairyMaster Parlour, while they also have a 30x14 foot slatted tank in the parlour yard. The cows are mainly housed in two-cubicle houses, with cubicle mats used. The family also recently converted an old stall house into a calving pen, while they also have individual calving houses on site, which they bed with straw.
“The cows are housed in 2 cubicle houses. We use cubicle mats which are scraped and limed daily.” John explained.
“We converted an old stall house into calving pins and also have other individual calf houses, which we bed using spring barley straw.”
The herd is run on a holding comprising of 60-acres in total, all of which is grassland.
“We have a 60-acre farm comprising entirely of grassland.” said John.
The family currently run with two stock bulls presently, a Friesian and an Aberdeen Angus. The Friesian bull is used on early calving cows in order to breed some replacements for the farm, while the Angus is used for heifers. The Angus bull is then let off with cows at the end of breeding season to mop up.
“We've two stock bulls, a Friesian and an Aberdeen Angus.” John explained.
“We use the Friesian bull for the early calvers to get some replacements and we use the Angus bull for the heifers. We also let the Angus bull finish off the cows.” John added.
The poor weather witnessed last Spring meant the family could not get their bulls out to grass on time, meaning they had to instead use A.I. for some of their stock.
“Due to the poor weather last spring, we were unable to let out the bull until the 1st May” The Cork farmer noted.
“So, we used AI for some of the early calvers. We stuck with easy calving Friesian and Angus bulls.”
Every year, the family aim to raise between 5-10 Friesian Heifers to enter the herd as replacements.
“We rear between 5 and 10 Friesian heifers every year as replacements, depending on how the herd is doing.” John said.
Any bull calves born on the farm in Ballymartle are sold by the farm. This is due to a number of different reasons.
“We sell all of the Angus calves and Friesian bull calves.” John told Kevin of That’sFarming.
“Due to the rising cost of ration and fertilizer, we think it no longer pays to rear all the calves. It suits us better to sell the calves and send the milk into the tank, if possible.” He continued.
Future Aspirations -
The main aim for John is to continue working alongside his father for the years to come.
“The plan, for the time being, is to keep working the family farm with Dad.” John said.
“Dairy farming isn't the type of occupation you should jump straight into the deep end and commit to milking cows 7 days a week for the rest of your life. The work can be tough, especially if you are alone and there are years when the return is very small. 2018, for example, was one of the most challenging years ever for farmers.” John explained.
The main aim for the O’Callaghan’s and the farm in Ballymartle, Co. Cork, is to make it as efficient as possible, with minimal investment. This, John hopes, will help protect the family farm from the impact of volatile milk prices.
“We hope to continue making our herd as efficient as possible and minimize the investment in the farm to reduce the impact of volatile milk prices.” He advised.
Otherwise, John and his father will continue doing what they do best, milking cows on the daily.
Why John does what he does -
There are a lot of reasons behind John’s passion for the dairy industry, no more influential than his love for animals and the job satisfaction gained.
“The main reasons behind my love for farming is working with animals and job satisfaction.” John explained to Kevin.
“It’s is very rewarding to care from an animal from birth right up to the point when they enter the milking parlour. There is also great satisfaction in seeing an animal grow. We do everything we can to help our animals no matter what the time, weather or financial implications are. The health and wellbeing of the animal always comes first” he reiterated.
Another major factor behind John’s immense passion for dairying is the sense of pride he feels in fulfilling his role as the third farming generation within the family.
“Family tradition is also an important aspect of my love for farming. John said.
“It's rewarding to know you are continuing on the work of previous family members for the next generation.” He concluded.
At only 24-years-old, Cork farmer John D. O’Callaghan has already had an abundance of success in his life and can even say he worked in the US, though to him, nothing compares to the work he carries out on his family farm in his native Co. Cork.
Are you a young farmer like John? Want to share your story and be featured in our weekly series? You can even show us around your farm for the day via our Snapchat account. Sound interesting? Send a short bio to us at email@example.com and you could be featured next week!