Patrick O’Neill didn’t expect to become a dairy farmer when he left school. In fact, he initially trained as a carpenter through an apprenticeship in Dundalk.
Like a lot of young people in Ireland, the thirty-six-year-old decided to spend a couple of years travelling, where he spent approximately three years in New Zealand and Australia.
He worked as a project manager and stayed in the carpentry trade throughout this time.
It was upon arriving home that the downturn in the Irish economy left the young Longford man with a decision to make.
He explained that the farm was there to be looked after and that is exactly what he did; Patrick was just twenty-eight at the time.
The Longford man entered into a partnership with his parents Thomas and Bernadette and has been running the farm since 2012. He completed his Green Cert with Teagasc in Roscommon.
He eventually built a house beside the home farm and lives there with his wife Michelle and their toddler Páidí in Edgeworthstown, Co. Longford. The couple are expecting their second child in a matter of weeks.
Having grown up on the farm, Patrick had always liked it, although it never crossed his mind to one day run it. “I’m a middle child of seven kids so I had to go out in the world and see what happened, I’ve very lucky” he smiled.
The farmer has two brothers and four sisters, but only one of his brothers, a beef farmer, chose to go into farming as a career. Since Thomas’ son joined the business, he has doubled the number of cows in his herd.
“When I came home, we milked fifty cows and I have grown that to a hundred now on the same block,” he said. The O’Neill’s have a 48-hectare milking platform and 19-hectares of those are currently closed for silage to be cut at the end of the month.
The farm is comprised of mostly Holstein Friesians, as that is what was originally reared on the farm. Patrick is trying to concentrate on building up his milk solids output.
The current performance figures show production of 24.7 litres on 1kg of 12% high-energy nut with 3.4% protein and 3.64% butterfat. Last year, he sent approximately 400 Kilos of milk solids to the co-op.
The herd is on a spring calving system; when the intrepid traveller initially returned home, he changed the way that breeding was traditionally done on the farm.
Having always used a stock bull for breeding, Patrick trained as an A.I technician with Progressive Genetics in Kildare in 2015 and that it what they’ve done since.
“The cows get a black and white straw for five weeks, and then we use a Hereford or Angus A.I straw after that,” he explained. Thirty-five of his cows are first-calvers.
They are bred for ten weeks and an Aberdeen Angus stock bull is used to clean up the heifers.
The heifers are bred for nine weeks in total, receiving A.I for three weeks and using the stock bull for the last six weeks.
The animals are on a twenty-day grazing rotation as the grass growth has been good this year. “My demand would be about 52 units of dry matter per acre and my growth at the moment is about 72,” said Patrick, who is quite happy with his figures.
The progressive farmer has also installed a new 16-unit Dairymaster herringbone milking parlour that features all the automated facilities including; a washer, feeder and moveable cluster.
“It’s a great job you know, clusters on and clusters off, I milk a hundred cows there in less than an hour.”
Patrick used to spend up to three hours milking with his old, eight-unit parlour. “It’s a big investment but it’s worth it, you get a farm/life balance and that’s what it’s all about.”
The young farmer loves dairy farming and is currently serving as a Longford delegate committee member of the National Dairy Committee for the IFA.
As a middle child of seven, Patrick considers himself incredibly lucky to be the one who got to partner on the farm. “For me, it’s not work - not at all. You just can’t beat being outside, even when the weather is terrible, it still beats sitting in a stuffy office”.
The irony is that is of all the years he spent in New Zealand, renowned for its dairy farming, Patrick never once set foot on a farm there.
His favourite time of year is in the spring during calving season, and his enthusiasm is palatable. He maintains that he wouldn’t push his son Páidí into farming; however, it will be a difficult endeavour to try and avoid Patrick’s passion for it.
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