Ronan O’ Siochru is 28 years old and responsible for a well-performing Holstein herd in Dingle, Co. Kerry.
Although a Kerry farmer by blood, Ronan moved away from Ireland and his family farm to live in London for a while, working on the underground. He returned home about five years ago, and it was then he started his two year Level 6 course in Dairy Herd Management at Clonakilty Agricultural College.
The farm that Ronan’s father owned was a beef enterprise, so launching straight into education for dairy cattle may have seemed an odd step. However, for Ronan, it was an invaluable experience.
“I learned so much from the course; maybe if you’d grown up on a dairy farm it wouldn’t have been a huge benefit but for me, I learned a lot,” explains Ronan.
The idea of running a dairy herd stuck in Ronan’s mind, and when he was 25 taking over the family farm, he made the decision to convert to dairy.
“If you had asked me back then, I would have said I’m only really interested in sucklers, but now I can’t believe how interested I am in the dairy and the breeding. I saw that our suckler farm of 60 Simmentals wasn’t really going anywhere so I made investments, including a DairyMaster parlour, roadways, and slurry storage.”
He started with 55 cows in 2014 when he changed to dairy, buying most of his stock locally.
“Now though, I’m starting to get my own replacements in so I won’t have to be buying anything anymore.”
It’s mostly Holstein on Ronan’s 80-cow farm, with a handful of Jerseys. Pride in his herd is very apparent, as he says that last year his EBI was 115, his protein levels were 3.6%, and his total milk solids reached 440kg.
Working on the farm is a fulltime job in itself, but Ronan also works as a night porter in a local hotel.
“I’m hoping this year I can just focus on farming, but when I took over the farm we invested a lot of money, and I needed the second job,” says Ronan. “It does complicate things; you’d be tired in the day after working the night shift. It’s hard to juggle both things around.”
Ronan finds most younger farmers to be more optimistic than the older generation; though he does understand that youth can make things seem a bit brighter!
“It’s starting to get a bit more optimistic among dairy farmers; especially the younger ones. I know younger people haven’t experienced the same hardship as the older generation though, so it’s easy to be optimistic!” admits Ronan. “No one knows what’s going to happen I suppose.”
“I didn’t get into farming to get rich. If I can pay off a mortgage and send my kids to school, I’ll be happy. I just love cows and the breeding side of it.”
Some of the roadways that Ronan has been investing in
For Ronan, gaining experience is important. At 28-years-old, he knows that there’s plenty left to learn. However, Ronan feels that the few years under his belt have helped him learn a great amount too.
“I know that a lot of fellas do their Green Cert in farming, and leave it at that. My second year in particular in Clonakilty taught me a huge amount though.” From taking the time to further his education and then assessing what needed to be done for his Dingle farm, Ronan has become wiser about the inner workings of agricultural business:
“Kerry definitely is a wetter part of Ireland, and it does mean you have to do things differently. That was something that people have to understand; you may have to feed 500kg of concentrate per cow. A half tonne is more than farmers in other places might have to fed, but we just have to give that extra bit of concentrate.”
“I learned how important a good EBI was as well. At the start, some of the stock I bought wasn’t high EBI.”
For Ronan and some of his farming counterparts, they’ve been lucky that Kerry Group offer a fixed-price milk scheme. This means that up to 20% of their supply will have a fixed VAT-inclusive price of 34c per litre.
“Nowadays, farming has improved massively. There’s better breeding, better tech, better monitoring. Despite all the doom and gloom, it’s looking a bit better. Twenty years ago, if a farmer was making 400kg of milk solids it’d be amazing, but now a minimum of 450kg would be expected.
“Farmers aren’t looking for a miracle; we’re not looking for 40c per litre, just even 32c or 33c per litre.”
For the future, things look bright. Ronan says he’d love to expand to about 100 cows, but wouldn’t go any further.
“I think it wouldn’t make financial sense for me to go over 100,” explains Ronan. Hopefully 2017 will bring an end to working two jobs for Ronan, and a bigger herd of 100 cows.
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