Farm Ireland
Independent.ie

Wednesday 7 December 2016

Why this dairy farmer is going against the grain and reducing cow numbers

My week: John Sheridan

Ken Whelan

Published 17/11/2016 | 17:00

Farmer John Sheridan and his son Matthew (with a little help from Benson the dog), move the animals on their farm in Mostrim, Co. Longford. Photo: Lorraine Teevan
Farmer John Sheridan and his son Matthew (with a little help from Benson the dog), move the animals on their farm in Mostrim, Co. Longford. Photo: Lorraine Teevan

John Sheridan is considering a gradual reduction in his dairy herd numbers at his farm in Mostrim in Co Longford in a bid to keep costs down and his slim profits "tipping over".

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"Lakeland say the milk price will be 32c/l next February but I'll go back from of 78 Friesians to between 66 and 68 anyway to save on feed and grass and we will see how the milk price fares next year. When there is a downturn, it is wise to cut back.

"With fewer cows you have more grass and at the moment you are probably better off cutting back, despite what Teagasc may say. That's the way it is this year and we will see how things work out," he adds.

The middle lad of nine children, John originally trained as an electrician working the buildings sites around London in the 1980s and returned to Longford in 1989 to take over the family farm from a brother who wanted a holiday.

John Sheridan with his wife Anne, sons Matthew, John Jnr, daughter Mary and Benson the dog on their farm in Mostrim, Co. Longford. Photo: Lorraine Teevan
John Sheridan with his wife Anne, sons Matthew, John Jnr, daughter Mary and Benson the dog on their farm in Mostrim, Co. Longford. Photo: Lorraine Teevan

He agreed to do a year on the farm but when the brother showed no signs or intentions of returning after four years, his dad signed over the farm to him.

He describes the land at Mostrim as "mixed to good" which took some "learning and getting used to" when he returned home to become a full-time farmer.

The 52-year-old started off milking 18 cows - alongside a beef enterprise - and gradually built up the herd on the 100ac home farm to the level it is today.

He rents a further 25 acres to rear his newly-born heifers, as well as opting for some bed and breakfast arrangements for his younger animals.

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This year was tough from a weather perspective and he had to house stock three weeks earlier than usual because of poor ground conditions.

While not against expansion, he underlines that he is not getting any younger.

Farmer John Sheridan hard at work on his farm in Mostrim, Co. Longford. Photo: Lorraine Teevan
Farmer John Sheridan hard at work on his farm in Mostrim, Co. Longford. Photo: Lorraine Teevan

Married to Ann, a schoolteacher at the nearby Ballymahon VEC, the couple have three children - Matthew (16) Mary (14) and John (13).

Asked if the children are interested in continuing the Sheridan farming tradition, he says all three help out on the farm.

John then immediately stresses that none of the three children will be going anywhere near the farm until they have completed their education, have travelled, and are capable of holding down an off-farm job.

"I'll make sure they have an off-farm job and have travelled the world," he says with some emphasis.

Wife Ann is happy teaching but is also happy on the farm.

"I notice that when she comes in after a hard day's teaching, she loves being on the farm. She's more relaxed around the farm."

We are having our chat on the morning of the American presidential election and John is of the belief that Trump's victory was no great surprise.

"If there was a referendum like Brexit here tomorrow on our EU membership, I'd say the result would be pretty similar. The problem seems to be that everyone is suffering because democracy has become very slow.

"That would be the feeling of most people around here. Anyway they are my thoughts when I am milking the cows every morning," John adds.

So I ask what about his off-farm pastimes and - after the usual pause - he says: "I like watching sports of all kinds, especially rugby and golf believe it or not, and I like to have a few pints at the weekend".

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