Hailing from a 123.9-acre holding in Lisheen, North Tipperary, which has been in his family since 1880, Michael Ryan is the fifth-generation within the family to have become involved in the dairy industry.
“It was always either a Michael or a Tom farming it anyway.” Young Farmer, Michael Ryan, explained to Kevin of That’sFarming.
At 24-years-old, Michael has now been working at home on a full-time basis alongside his father Tom and mother, Mary, since obtaining a degree in Agricultural Science in 2017. Together, the family run a herd of Holstein/Friesian cows.
“They are about 60% British Friesian and 40% Holstein.” Michael said.
“We have gone from 70 cows in 2014 to 120 and we hope to go up to 130-135 in the next year, all going well,” he added.
The family once ran their own tillage enterprise alongside the dairy farm, up until approximately five years ago.
“We were tillage farming as well up until 2013…Tom and my grandfather would have been bigger into the tillage than the dairying.” Michael said.
“The dairy was always there, but like everyone, they had a mixed system. They had a bit of dry stock, some Sucklers and a bit of tillage,” the farmer continued.
The family grew mostly Spring Barley, but also grew their own fodder beet for a period too.
“We messed around with everything like everyone did at some stage. It was mainly spring barley.” Michael told That’sFarming’s Kevin.
“The last few years we used to keep it all for ourselves. We used to keep forty tonnes. We have our own drier and we roll it ourselves, but we gave up on that,” he continued.
After shifting their focus from both tillage and dairy to solely dairy, the family began concentrating on their dairy herd and trying to improve the overall performance as much as possible. Michael says he always retained an interest in agriculture, having spent his entire childhood helping his father out whenever possible.
Michael’s Journey -
For Michael, the intention was always to pursue a career in agriculture, continuing on from experiences gained in his youth. This led to the Tipperary man taking on a trip to W.I.T., where he completed a degree in Agricultural Science.
“I only finished up in May 2017…Ag Science” said Michael.
“It was the plan all along (to go farming) …When the quotas went, it was kind of a no-brainer.” He added.
Michael also says the high standards maintained on the farm by his father, Tom, and the excellent system in place made his decision to seek a future on the home-farm a lot easier.
“To be fair to Tom, he had everything done to the ‘nines’ and he was so good at it, you couldn’t but not go into it after him.” Michael said.
Following the completion of his degree, Michael then made his return home to the family farm, where he has now been working full-time since last year.
“I came home full-time last year, and we just went up in cow numbers then,” said the 24-year-old.
The Farm -
The milking is currently carried out in the family’s newly-built 20-Unit Pearson parlour, which features ACRs, yield indicators, air gates, automatic drafter, new handling facilities and more.
“It was a 20-unit Pearson we put in, we went up from a 12-unit.” said the farmer.
Their 120-strong milking herd was only recently increased by 20 from last year and breeding on the farm is carried out mainly through A.I with stock bulls mopping up and only the top performing EBI bulls chosen.
Breeding on the farm starts on the 25th of April, with pre-breeding commencing in the first week of April. Any cows not cycling after 4 weeks are estrumated. The family carry out six weeks of intensive AI on cows, before letting them off with a stock bull for five-and-a-half weeks. Heifers are also AI’d for a six-week period, but only given five weeks afterwards with a stock bull.
“We always target high EBI.” Michael noted.
Replacement-wise, the family are a fully closed herd and raise their own stock, evening keeping one of their own breeding bulls as a stock bull.
“We try to keep everything as closed as possible because you don’t know what you would be buying in” said Michael.
“We sell a couple of breeding heifers as well,”
The family only recently began selling bull calves born on the farm, having previously reared them as breeding bulls. They still keep between 15 and 20 breeding bulls every year. Previously, the family had finished some of the male stock born on the farm, though upon increasing the size of their Milking herd, they began selling them as weanlings.
“Last spring was actually the first year that we sold bull calves…We are moving towards the cows the whole time,” Michael said.
“We still keep 15 to 20 of them for breeding bulls, that we sell every year…There are very few of them more than 50% Holstein.” he continued.
Calving usually begins around the 23rd of January on the farm in Lisheen, while the family also complete almost the entire silage harvesting duties themselves, bar baling and picking silage. The workload is shared between Michael and his father, Tom, with other family members called into help when needed.
“We do our own hedge-cutting, reseeding, slurry,” Michael said.
“Tom and myself are here full-time...He’s the man that has all the common sense,” Michael chuckled.
“My mother is involved as well, doing some of the book work and she helps with the calves in the spring too…We wouldn’t really get in any labour bar ourselves.”
The farming duo (Tom and Michael) are currently in a five-year succession plan on the Tipperary farm, set to conclude in 2022.
“We are in a five-year succession plan.” The young farmer noted.
Grazing-wise, all cows are grazed on in a paddock to paddock system with 12-hour breaks and just over 50-hectares on the milking platform. To keep on top of the grass, Michael and Tom aim to measure once a week normally and twice a week during peak growing season. The family also have two out blocks, 12.5 acres and 16-acres.
“We never go for more than 12-hour breaks,” said Michael.
“On a normal year, we would be growing around the 14-tonne mark. This year we were back around 11 tonnes.” He added.
Michael says the farm is currently stocked at a rate of 2.72, with not much room for any further increases in cow numbers.
(Family's method of training in-calf heifers above)
Milking for Quality -
As mentioned, the main focus of the Ryan family in recent years is improving the overall performance of their herd.
This led to continuous efforts from the family to try and improve upon their already impressive levels. Their hard work was rewarded in 2018 as the family finished second in the NDC & Kerrygold Quality Milk Awards, something which came as a shock to Michael and the team.
“It was an amazing competition. We were shocked to have even won the co-op, never mind finish second overall. It was a great distraction through what can only be described as a tough educational year.” Michael said.
“The awards day in Dublin was a real humbling experience and filled us with great pride to be part of such an amazing world class industry. We were delighted for the CO-OP as well, as we only have 342 members supplying milk but have placed second and had a winner in the last 4 years. This illustrates the high standards among such a small group and the quality side of the co-op should be commended for that.” He added.
Herd Performance at the time of the Awards: 4.2% Butterfat, 3.62% Protein, 71.6 SCC.
Future Aspirations -
In terms of the future on the Ryan family farm, as always, they will look to continue improving the performance of their herd in any way they can.
In the short term, the family will look to increase their milking herd in size to around the 130-cow mark, if not more. If land becomes available in the area the herd could even see further increases.
“There is the possibility of land coming up in the area, so there is scope (for an increase).” Michael told Kevin.
“But we are not going to get too carried away, there still has to be a fair standard of life out of the whole thing.” He adds.
The main focus in terms of improving the herd’s performance, will be on genetics.
“We will always try and better genetics.” said Michael.
“It is a very cheap way of trying to increase profitability,” Michael adds.
Another aim for the future is to improve the overall sustainability of the farm, while Michael is also hoping to reach a target of 16 tonnes of grass grown this year.
“We are going to target growing 16 tonnes of grass.” Michael noted.
“We will target 550kgs of solids as well,”
The family will also continue rearing breeding bulls in the coming twelve months and will continue selling all bull calves born.
Why Ag -
When asked what about the industry keeps him motivated and gets him up out of bed in the morning, Michael had more than one answer.
“It is a great way of living and working.” He said.
“You will see what you have done for a long time too come, say if you build a shed or something.” he continued.
He admits to always having had a soft spot for animals too, which makes his passion for Ag all the stronger.
“I always liked working with animals and the breeding (genetics), I would be big into that as well.” Michael said.
“It is a way of life more than anything else.” He advised.
Are you a young farmer under the age of 40? Fancy sharing your story like Michael? If this sounds like you, send a short bio to Kevin by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.