To most Michael might have his hands well and truly full with a wife and young son of one years of age. A child beginning to taking its first steps means the busy period is about to ensue, though for Michael the busy period is all day every day.
Michael Carroll is 36 years of old and hails from the Granagh area of County Limerick. Here he farms his family dairy herd with his father Martin. He hasn’t always been destined for a career in dairy however, having worked as a quantity surveyor.
“I was a quantity surveyor for eight years”, he said.
The next few years that followed saw Michael build a house for his friend, travel to Australia and New Zealand , before returning to his home farm to help his father who had recently broken his leg.
“I had moved home in 2010 then two days beforehand the father broke his leg in one of the cubicles.”, he said.
“It was a bit of a baptism of fire then” said Michael, who went straight into it and began taking on the monumental task of running the family farm.
How he took over/Early days
Michael has four brothers, only one other of which would have been in line to take over.
“It was always going to be between two of us. The other brother was going to do it but at that time it didn’t suit him.”
He hadn’t planned on leaving his career as a quantity surveyor, but hasn’t looked back since.
“I wasn’t envisaging leaving the quantity surveying for farming, but when I came back the opportunity came and I took it on. I wouldn’t go back, I am very happy at what i’m doing.”, he said.
Michael knew he had to learn as much as he possibly could to help the farm to run smoothly. This led to him competing a Teagasc course, which has helped set him on his way.
“I did the Teagasc Fetac course and it has all taken off since then” he said.
Back when he started, they were sticking to the quota and milking approximately 70 cows and had few of beef stock too, with all calves being kept for finishing on the farm. They had approximately 140 acres plus another 30 of which they rented locally and bought recently.
Since his introduction to the farm they have been building each year. The parlour was upgraded by Michael’s father Martin back in 1995 . Michael currently milks in a Ten unit parlour, which he says has served them very well. But they are milking over 120 cows at the moment, meaning it takes a lot of time using the outdated parlour.
“We are milking 120 cows, it takes an hour and a half button to button easy. It’s very Slow.”, he said.
There are plans afoot to build a new GEA parlour though, so the milking process will be less labour intensive.
“We are in the middle of doing a new parlour , which will hopefully be in place by next year. It wIll be a twenty unit. We plan to milk over 140 cows next year”, said Michael.
Michael and his father Martin run a farm of just over 170 acres with over 120 cows at the moment. Their herd consists of just Holstein Friesians, just as it always has.
Michael, since taking over, places a strong emphasis on grass management. Michael is involved with the Teagasc Moorepark monoculture trials. This has helped increase their grass yields year on year, with the farm already beating last year’s numbers this year so far. Over the years they now have 13 different single varieties growing in their paddocks, a result of five or six years involvement.
“There is a lot of reseeding. On average we do the 10% every year, but we have already exceeded that target this year.” he stated.
“Up to today we are just short of 13 tonnes. We should hit over 14 tonnes this year,(last years target) purely because of all the reseeding.”, he added.
He did say that the transition into grassland management was a difficult one, with it hard to find the time with other farm duties to carry it out. He said his father encouraged him from the beginning, though he had no interest himself he knew it had to be done. He said the weekly task which takes over an hour is something he looks forward to now, with the benefits proven since it’s introduction.
“You enjoy doing it, going for the walk and seeing what way things are going”, he lamented.
“Make yourself have an interest in grass, whether you do or not. Thats where you make your gains. It makes a huge difference and Its very easy to do”, Michael advised.
Before adding, “We have no interest in milk quantities or what they’re milking it’s all solids solids solids....At a local discussion group...a farmer said watch the grass the bulk tank will look after itself.”
This is an ehtos Michael firmly believes in.
“We wouldn’t be breeding for milk yield at all. Going forward it’s solids all the way. Buffer feeding would be a big no-no in my book anyway”, he argues
The farm are dry from the first week of December, giving them a well needed break to enjoy Christmas. The farmer and his father also complete their own contracting duties, making summer months fairly hectic indeed.
Day to Day:
Generally Michael sticks to the milking side of the farm. He rises just after 6 every morning and heads down to the parlour. Here he is greeted by the sight of the herd making their way in, herded by his father Martin, who still plays a primary role in the running of the farm.
He then carries out the milking, while his father tends to the calves and the heifers. Michael completes milking, buttton to button in an hour and a half usually, then sends the animals back to paddock and begins the cleaning and general maintenance of the yard. This is in preparation for the day’s second milking.
His day also includes jobs such as sorting out shed, welding, checking the grass weekly, putting down new beds and much more, meaning there is rarely time to relax. With plans ahead for the new parlour, preparation is already underway with the workload increasing significantly for Michael.
“There’s always seems to be something, you never seem to get a break from it. One thing is the fact that milking takes so long, you end up doing twelve hour days every day. “ said Michael.
“These days I will be out in the mornings at after six and it would be after half six before i’m going in again in the evenings”, he added.
But how does he cope with milking a large herd himself, while also finding time for his wife and young son?
“I have a very understanding wife, It is not easy but we are moving forward. The long term plan is to push out the number of cows, to justify getting someone fulltime in the spring and part time over the summer”, said Michael.
This he says will enable him to spend more time at home and is the reason he and his father are working so hard. He also added that he and his wife are currently doing up the home house where they now live, meaning the schedule is busier than ever for the Carroll’s.
Michael says the main challenge facing farmers is the often unsociable nature of the work. He feels this is a major problem facing many farmers and lamented that this is what he missed about working as a QS.
“One thing about farming, it’s very unsociable. Getting people involved in discussion groups is very important. One thing I missed straight away from working was lunch break. Where you go off and meet a few people”. He stated.
Before adding, “Our road is busy here, but you can spend days without seeing and meeting people. Other farmers can and it’s one thing that needs to be looked at, to make sure people are getting involved in groups and getting out”.
“It is a lonely life. I hate to say it is because it sounds depressing and it’s far from it, there’s always a lot happening”.
Michael again stressed the need for people to focus on grassland management. This he said was another challenge facing the industry, though he feels there is huge potential for improvement.
“One of the big challenges facing the industry is to try and convince people to just start growing grass and keep it simple and reseed.”, he stressed.
“The amount of unused land around the place is phenomenal, the potential is huge” said Michael.
While Michael also admitted that getting fresh faces into the industry is also a point of concern. He did though offer advice for farmers starting off in the dairy industry.
“Keep the gap between what you get and what it’s costing you as big as possible. Whether that’s keeping costs down or milk prices up keep that space as big as possible” he advised.
He also advised that anyone looking to follow his path, going from a full time career to farming, to be fully certain that this is what they want. He said it is a massive change in lifestyle and should be well thought over first.
“Don’t just go try it out. You have to be 100% behind it. If you’re thinking of trying it out I would say go away and go work on a farm fulltime first. It’s a huge undertaking and a massive change in lifestyle.", He warned.
“I wouldn’t discourage anyone from joining but you need to know what you are getting into, there’s a lot of work going into it.”, he added.
Why he loves farming:
“It’s a nice lifestyle, working with animals is nice”, he says.
He added the pleasure felt from being your own boss and not having to please other people is another factor. While he also loves being able to see the direct impact made on the farm by his own decisions.
“I love working outside, I do enjoy working on my own. You can do something every day that will improve your business. Every single day is a challenge and there is something different everyday.”
Michael loves what he does and works hard to ensure his farm achieves all it can. Constantly improving and looking for ways to increase the bottom line. Michael rarely has a minute to himself, but he loves every second of it.