Key advice for anyone thinking of getting into dairying
Potential dairy converts are advised to plan 18 months ahead and avoid spending all their money on a milking machine.
So you want to be a dairy farmer? If so the most important message is that you need to plan well ahead, and forget about the "next spring" approach, according to Jim Moyles, a Tullamore-based Teagasc advisor.
He said anyone thinking of starting up or converting to dairying needs a 12-18 month lead-in time.
"Forget about next spring if you're thinking now of going into milking," he stressed.
However, he said new entrants have a massive advantage in that they are starting off with no issues.
He advised new entrants to not spend all the money on the milking machine and then look at what is left over for stock.
"The number one investment should be in stock. Looking at ads for in-calf heifers selling for €1,200 is not what a new entrant should be doing," he said.
"Go out and buy the best stock you can afford.
"Follow the EBI. Talk to as many people as you can but the EBI is proven."
John Crowe and James Maloney told their stories at Moorepark last week, explaining how they switched to dairying and the key lessons they learned along the way.
John Crowe, Tipperary
John farms outside Tipperary town in partnership with his parents.
"In 2014, we decided we were going to go milking in 2016," he says.
"I was doing the dairy business course in UCD and that was finishing in May 2015 and dad was working off-farm and that was ending too.
"We bought heifer calves and we planned on milking 70 in 2016. But in March/April 2014 we got 40 heifers to milk in the spring of 2015.
"We were coming from a tillage and suckler set-up. Up to 2000 dad had been milking so there were roadways and a paddock system there and cubicle sheds.
"We thought getting in with 40 would allow us to get milk flowing and allow us to do the development as it went on.
"For me a massive help was being in the dairy business course. I was the only suckler farmer on the course."
John's advice to those thinking of getting into dairying is to "go for the best stock from the beginning".
"The breed of cow you have shows your preferred breed," he says. "For us it was more about the EBI and the figures. We wanted a grass-based system, a cow that is fertile and would go in calf every year and produce milk solids.
"We got in slowly and we're delighted with our stock. It's a big family effort with my parents."
The family milked 70 in 2016 and are currently milking 120. Over the last few years they have also re-invested and developed the farm.
James Maloney, Limerick
James farms in Limerick in a partnership on a 400-cow dairy farm; his brother milks 60 cows on the home farm in West Cork.
"When I was doing the Leaving Certificate I liked farming but I didn't necessarily want to be a dairy farmer," says James.
"So I went and did the UCD dairy business course and I liked everything about it. In the third year of it I was in New Zealand and I thought about making a career for myself in dairy farming."
He then went to the UK in 2015 as a herd manager, working on a spring-calving cross-bred herd.
"I was involved in two discussion groups and it was interesting to see even the difference between the UK and Ireland when it comes to farming," he says.
"I first came across share-milking in New Zealand and saw different formats of it in the UK. I also did a foot-trimming course and an AI course and that set me up well to come back to Ireland."
In 2016 he started looking at opportunities through the Land Mobility Service and he looked at a number of farms. The farm in Limerick was the standout one for him.
"With the farm owner we decided I would work with him for a year and manage the home farm," he says. "That was to get to know the farm and the people involved and make sure it was the right long-term move."
Since then James has moved onto the outside farm.
"We were both fairly sure going into the partnership that we could work together."
An award-winning farming couple say balancing life and work is central to their success in and out of the milking parlour.
"If farming and the life outside of the farm don't work together, then it doesn't work for us," Michael Crowley said..
Husband and wife Michael and Marguerite Crowley farm together in west Cork, milking 170 cows with their five children.
In 2016, the Crowleys were named West Cork Dairy Farmers of the Year and won the Carbery Milk Quality Award. They were previously named as the Best Percentage Solids category winner in the National Dairy Council/Kerrygold Milk Quality Awards. The Crowleys supply Drinagh Co-op.
"When we went from 60 cows to 170, we didn't want to work a minute more. If there was a football match or something like that, we didn't want to miss it. It was about putting the family first," Michael said, admitting that contractors now do a lot more of the tractor work on the farm.
"We wanted the two of us on the farm to grow up with the children and enjoy life too," Marguerite said.
In terms of efficiency on the farms, Michael said they have made great strides in recent years.
"The first thing you want to do is to be able to grow grass. We're blessed with the climate here that you could grow grass behind your ears if you stopped cutting it," he said.
"Then we set about getting the cow type right. The farm is a mile this way and a mile that way, so the cows have to be fairly athletic. We cross-bred our cows… and we're getting 500kg of milk solids from them.
"The third thing is the compact calving and getting the cows calved inside that six-week period.
"All of those things have put our milk price about 3c to 4c/litre ahead of our co-op average."
Michael added that these efficiencies, as well a harmonious family relationship, are key to a successful farm. "The milking parlour can be a great social place, but it can be a very quiet place too if everyone isn't working together."
For Marguerite, it is all about the work-life balance.
"We're never going to be millionaires, but we go on holiday for a week every January as a family. That's very important."