Still only relatively new to the business after going full time five years ago, Paddy O’ Hanlon certainly has his hands full.
The 30 year old currently farms just over 160 hectares near Markethill in County Armagh.
He currently looks after 180 Friesian cattle as well as just over 100 beef livestock, making Paddy a very busy man indeed.
“We’ve always kept both. We’ve always had dairy and a few beef cattle as well”, he said.
Paddy hadn’t always taken the steps towards a career in farming though, as the third generation farmer once harboured dreams of gaining employment in the trade industry. He qualified as a plasterer and worked in the role for just over four years. This was when his return to farming became a reality.
“We were working on the farm all of our lives, but when I was 15 I wanted to study a trade. So i qualified as a plasterer, I done it for four years. It got to a stage where dad needed me home, so it was time to go home and that was it. I went home and began working on the farm full-time”, Paddy stated.
“I always knew someday it was going to happen but at the time there wasn’t enough work on the farm for the two of us so you know yourself dad isn’t getting any younger. It had to be done, he added.
He and his father share the same herd number, with his father taking a step back from the milking process, meaning Paddy milks all 180 by himself. His father looks after the calves on the farm, and as Paddy says himself, still does as much as he does.
“When we got the new milking parlour he said he was given it up, that was it. But he’s still on the farm on a daily basis and does just as much work as I do”,said Paddy.
The new milking parlour was installed five years ago now upon Paddy’s return home and is a modern automated system. He runs an ATL cluster flush parlour with all the latest technologies.
Paddy’s childhood was spent on the farm or since he “was able to stand up”. He remembers fondly being out on the farm from as young as 5 years old.
“I always grew up on the farm, I’ve been on the farm since I was five or six years of age” he said.
Before adding, “The way farming was 15 years ago doesn’t exist anymore. It’s a totally different way of farming now, than when I was growing up”.
He said now it’s all about the genes and science behind the industry, as well as grass management.
“It’s all down to grass”, said Paddy, before adding “We strip graze now. It’s only the last two years we quit zero grazing. We went back to putting emphasis on the grass”.
Paddys day starts bright and early, before 7 in the morning. He begins by bringing in his Dairy cows for the day’s first milking. Then when this is all done they put the cows back to pasture for grazing. They then begin preparing the buffer feed for the animals. This is done to prevent a loss in body condition of the dairy stock after first lactation, to prevent poor protein production and to increase milk yields. This is usually first cut silage with or without added supplements.
Next is to check the beef cattle, which are Cross breeds of the Hereford and Belgian Blue breeds. He does this to just keep an eye on them. Then it’s off back to the farm to get the slats cleaned and all ready for the second milk of the day. As mentioned above Paddy does the milking all himself while his father looks after the farms calves. His day finishes usually around 7 or 8 when he returns home for the evening, not that Paddy minds though.
Paddy is just off the back of a hectic silage season, though he is still awaiting his third cut as he looks to increase grass yields for buffer feeding. He says though the weather is not helping the situation.
Paddy is always looking for ways to improve and increase overall profits. He is currently a member of a discussion group in the area, run by the department. This consists of 12 other fellow dairy farmers within a 14 mile radius of each other.
“We all meet up once a month and visit each other’s farms. It’s just to have a chat and about what everyone’s doing and comparing figures to see if there is any way to tighten myself”, he said.
The group works in unison with the goal of helping improve each other’s practices and thus increasing profits.
Like all farmers Paddy himself has faced his fair share of challenges. He said the recent downward trend in milk prices had left him contemplating the future.
“With the milk prices the last two years, it wasn’t very heartening to do anything. It wasn’t very encouraging to get up out of bed in the morning to milk cows for a loss”, he said.
He continued, “That’s been going for two years now, and i’ll tell you it wasn’t easily done. It would make you think twice”.
He did say he is currently satisfied with the price he receives and says he would me more than happy should they stay there.
“With the milk prices at the minute, I am more than happy. If they stay there we’ll be happy”, Paddy replied.
He also spoke of how current suppliers in all sectors seem to be relatively happy at the minute, from the chicken suppliers to the pig suppliers, though also warned of the markets fragility.
“Everybody seems to be sort of happy, but six months down the line nobody knows what’s going to happen”, said Paddy.
He did mention one particular worry of a lot of farmers in the area, himself included, Brexit. His main worry being a loss of markets.
“When this Brexit comes in, nobody has a clue. Everybody tells you it’s going to be better for dairy and better for beef, But nobody knows. I don’t think they know themselves what’s happening”. ”, he stated worriedly.
Paddy and his father finish approx 50 cattle on their farm every year. Other stores when they reach a 500 kg weight are sold for someone else to finish. The type of beef cattle and the number finished on the farm all depends on grass.
“All depends on what grass is available at the start of the year and what lands available at the start of the year. We plan our year from spring onwards.”Paddy added.
These cattle, as mentioned above, as Hereford/Friesian crosses as well as Belgian Blue/Friesian crosses.
Plans for future:
Always looking to the future and ways to improve his farm, Paddy has a number of plans on the horizon. He hopes to soon build an extra two beef cattle units, to allow for extra numbers in the herd.
“At the minute, I’m waiting on the weather as I plan to put up another two beef units.”, said Paddy.
He continues, “Maybe then i’ll consider keeping friesian bull calves and finishing them.”
He would love to expand his numbers as soon as possible, but simply doesn’t have the room and doesn’t see the sense in holding other cattle back.
Advice for young farmers:
When asked if he had any advice for young farmers looking to follow his path, Paddy replied with conviction.
He said, “I would advise them to just go and do it. I don’t regret doing it. I’m happy with what I have. Everydays a different challenge, just build up and try and go on and do what you do best as best you can”.
Paddy spoke of his love for livestock, as is obvious from his already large numbers, but it’s abundantly clear he loves what he does
“I just love working with livestock and it’s been a part of my life since I was fit to walk more or less. I grew up with it and enjoyed it, I always knew this was going to be my route in life at one stage and I haven’t looked back”, he said.
Before concluding, “At times it is challenging, but I enjoy it”.
Paddy O’Hanlon a dairy and beef farmer in the County of Armagh, a busy man with a bright future in the industry.