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Monday 5 December 2016

'From May it will be work, work, work from 7am to 1am'

Nicholas Hughes, Moylough, Co Galway, dairy farmer and agri-contractor

Ken Whelan

Published 30/03/2016 | 02:30

Nicholas Hughes from Moylough, Co Galway.
Nicholas Hughes from Moylough, Co Galway.

Nicholas Hughes was on the broad of his back when we spoke last week: "It was a hard calving this evening and I was pulling the calf when I took a stumble and my back went out again," he explained with the weariness of a man who has a somewhat fraught relationship with his back.

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He was pulling calf number 53 of 64 of the season when the stumble occurred and so it's painkillers and visits to the chiropractor over the next week or so.

It's a familiar experience for Nicholas: "I usually put the back out once a year but it is not always from something to do with the farm or the contracting business. Sometimes it just goes and I can't say why," he says.

Nicholas farms his 77 acre home farm at Moylough in Co Galway with his wife Catriona and rents out a further 150 to 200 acres depending on availability and farming requirements.

The couple have three children Gearoid (14), Mairead (11) and Sean (8).

Their Friesian herd supplies manufacturing milk to Arrabawn and the contracting enterprise -NCH Contracting - works with up to 50 farmers within a five-mile radius of the home farm.

Everything is covered contracting-wise from baling to slurry spreading and from ploughing to reseeding. Everything that is except pit silage.

"I gave that up in the early 90s. There was no money in it back then and from what I hear there is no money in it now. I was probably getting more for pit silage when I quit than the lads get today.

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"I was on 40 old pounds an acre back then and I hear it is between €50 and €60 an acre now," says Nicholas.

The contracting business employs one man on a permanent basis while all the office work is done by Catriona and here things will start getting very busy in the next six weeks.

"From May it will be work, work, work from 7 am and that will go from 7am to 1am at the height of the summer.

"And the work still has to be done on the home farm," says Nicholas.

The contracting business is investment intensive what with the upkeep and modernisation of his machinery fleet which ranges from a New Holland combine to Valtra tractors, Fusion balers and all the ancillary equipment required for the enterprise.

But contracting is in his blood.

His late father Sean started in the business during the 1970s and Nicholas followed him after doing his Green Cert with Teagasc when he left school in Tuam.

He reckons the business now breaks even most years.

On the farm side Nicholas says he bought into the post quota dream and increased his herd of Friesians, covered by Hereford bulls, to participate in the "great white gold boom."

He increased his herd by 20 head to 77 cows but things haven't become 'boomier' since the lifting of the EU milk quotas.

In fact he was promptly landed with a quota fine last year which he is paying off in monthly instalments.

He just sighs when he thinks of the predictions made before the lifting of milk quotas and the realities of the new open ended milk market.

So what's the story with free time and holidays for the Hughes family?

"Well we try to take a week off for holidays every year. Usually in Ireland and usually within a day's journey from the farm just in case we get a call that something is wrong in Moylough," he explains.

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