On this week’s Young Farmer Series, Kevin speaks to Tipperary dairy farmer and an FBD young farmer of the year finalist for 2018, Sean Kelly. Read his story in full below.
Age - 26
Farm - Milking 100 cows in farm partnership with his father.
Performance - 550kgs Milk solids in 2017, Herd performance in 2017 - 8,343, Butterfat 4.06%, Protein 3.55%.
Sean Kelly is a 26-year-old full-time dairy farmer hailing from Kilruane, Near Nenagh in Co. Tipperary, though it was not always his intention to farm on a full-time basis.
A fourth-generation farmer, Sean’s great grandfather was the man responsible for the Kelly’s first becoming involved in dairy, having started his enterprise with a small handful of cows. It is here in Kilruane that the 2018 FBD Young Farmer of the year finalist, Sean, now runs a 100-strong dairy herd alongside his father, Patrick. Together the pair entered into a farm partnership, upon Sean completing his green cert approximately three years ago and they have only gotten bigger and better ever since.
“I am the fourth generation…We were always dairy, my great grandfather had maybe four or five cows and built up from there.” Sean told That’sFarming’s Kevin.
The family milk 100 cows every day in their 12-unit Dairymaster Herringbone parlour, which was upgraded upon Sean’s return home in 2010. Their herd was always a Holstein/Friesian mix, though the family implemented some changes in recent times, adding Jersey genetics to the mix.
“We are going down the crossbred route. We were always Holstein Friesian, but we found that the cows were actually too milky, they were nearly too hard on themselves and it was affecting their fertility.” Sean explained.
The aim for Sean and his father is to continue this change in the genetic make-up of their herd and push their herd towards an even three-way cross, Holstein/Friesian/Jersey.
“So, we went down the crossbred route. We didn’t jump into it, we just kind of dipped our toes into it…When we did it, it worked very well. So, every year after that we always went more and more. We used a lot of Jersey on the cows this year, so hopefully next year we will have a lot more Jersey crossbred heifers.” He continued.
Sean and his father are not the only two members of the Kelly family who have an influence on the home farm, with his mother, Margaret, and brother, Paidí, also playing a significant part in its operation. His brother Paidí is actually a Teagasc advisor, meaning help and advice is never too far away.
The family farm has performed amicably in recent years and their herd has even achieved 550kgs of milk solids for the past four years.
“The herd has hit over 550kgs of milk solids for the past four years. The hope is to increase this to 600 in a few years.” The young farmer explained.
“We hit 550 last year and this year we are at the 560-570 mark. Every year the herd is improving.” Sean told Kevin.
Sean’s journey -
As mentioned, it was never really Sean’s main aspiration in life to return home to farm on a full-time basis, though sometimes life has other plans.
Sean completed his Leaving Certificate in 2010 and at that time was unsure as to what he wanted to pursue as a future career. This led to the Tipperary native taking a year out and this is when a newly developed passion for agriculture took over.
“At the time I wasn’t really sure if farming was for me, So I took a year out.” Sean said.
“Then I kind of caught the bug and realised that I like doing the work.” He continued.
Sean admits that the farm was in need of a renovations upon his return home eight years ago and he and his father set about improving the farm facilities. This led to them upgrading their parlour, cubicle sheds and feeding bays. The improvements were not to end there either, as Sean and his father Patrick also set about reseeding some of their pastures and adding new roadways where needed. This, and the abolishment of quotas, enabled the farming pair to increase their milking herd from 55 to almost double its size, 100, by the year 2018.
“Then in 2015 I went down to Gurteen (Ag College) and completed the Green Cert.” Sean noted.
“The plan was, once the quota was gone, to have the facilities ready to expand.” He added.
This marked the official beginning of Sean’s career in Agriculture and in January of this year (2018) he formally entered into a farm partnership with his father, Patrick, and the 26-year-old wouldn’t trade it for the world. Sean noted the excellent rapport he has with his father as a contributing reason to the farm’s success and he explained his father is not shy to take on board new advice, something which made Sean’s return home that bit easier.
“He is very good, he is always very open minded. We never actually have a proper row,” Sean told That’sFarming.
“We always got on well, there was never any hassle when making any big decisions.” Sean said.
The Farm -
Currently the milking platform is 29 hectares in total, with cows grazing in a paddock to paddock system, usually rotated on average every 16 days, weather and soil type dependent. The family have 21 paddocks in total.
“It is very good ground to grow grass, last year we averaged 16 tonne of grass here.” Sean stated.
The Kelly’s farm approximately 60 hectares all in, with 19 hectares located on an out farm used for rearing replacements and a further 11 hectares kept for silage.
“There is 60 hectares altogether. There are two out farms, one with 11 hectares and 19 hectares on the other.” Sean noted.
“One is kept for rearing replacements and the other one is for silage.” The young farmer continued.
Sean and his father aim to have their Spring Calving herd fully calved by April 10th, with calving commencing at the end of January.
“We just try to give ourselves a break before breeding starts.” He explained.
Breeding on the farm is carried out from the 23rd of April onwards, with A.I. used for the entire herd. Unusually, the family use completely A.I. meaning they do not let any bulls out with the herd. When choosing sires, Sean and his father tend to use Friesian and Jersey straws for the first eight weeks of the breeding programme, with any repeats served with Angus straws.
“The last four weeks we use all Angus A.I.” Sean said.
All bull calves born on the farm near Nenagh, are sold off at the earliest convenience to local repeat farmer customers. The family aim to have all calves gone by two weeks old, as they simply do not have the time to rear calves.
“We just don’t need them. I would rather keep the Friesian and Jersey heifer calves that we want on the farm and make sure they are all 100%.” Sean stated.
In total, Sean and his father aim to keep an average of 25 replacements each year. Last year saw the farm have 55 replacements within their herd, though in situations like these they choose the best stock to keep for themselves and sell the rest as weanlings, just as they have done this year.
“Last year we had an exceptional number of heifers. We had 55 heifer calves out of a possible 70.” Sean told Kevin.
“If we had 25 that would be enough replacements for two years’ time when we need them to enter the herd…We actually sold surplus heifers as weanlings this year as we didn’t need them.” The Young Farmer finalist added.
Sean said that because the farm have an abundance of data and details on their stock and replacement heifers, that they rarely struggle to source buyers. The family’s main aim is herd performance improvements and to achieve better results they milk record an average of six times in the year.
“That’s what we do to improve the herd, go on the information off that (milk recording).” Sean noted.
Future Aspirations -
With regards to the future of the Kilruane farm, Sean says the main objective for the coming years is not expansion, but the improvement of performance.
“The plan now is to get better and not bigger. Keep improving the herd, rather than building up the herd.” Sean explained.
In the longer term, Sean will take the reins of the family farm at some stage, though not until Patrick has had his fill of the industry, something Sean doesn’t envisage happening anytime soon, if at all. Otherwise, Sean and his father are content with the facilities currently on the farm, having upgraded many of them since Sean’s return.
“There is not much more we can do…We have pushed it hard the last couple of years.” Sean noted.
The main aim, as mentioned previously, is to try and increase milk solids for yet another year. Sean’s aim is to reach 650kgs within twelve months if possible.
“It’s a big target to hit, but we are looking forward to hitting it.” Sean said.
Why Agriculture -
Although it was never Sean’s main aim in life to farm at home on a full-time basis, there are a lot of contributing factors to his delight at his decision.
Sean admits to loving working with animals and his herd of cows in particular.
“I love working with animals, working with the cows. Every cow I know her mother and her sire, her grandmother.” Sean said.
He also enjoys the personal feel to the job and working so closely alongside his family. This and the satisfaction gained from watching their homebred stock outperforming previous years are what drives Sean and the rest of the Kelly’s onto bigger and better things.
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