'Dairying was the only way I could stay full-time in farming and provide for my family'

Bernard Ging
Bernard Ging
Declan O'Brien

Declan O'Brien

Bernard Ging jumped the fence from drystock to dairying in 2012 and hasn't looked back since.

Five years on the president of the Irish Grasslands Association is no longer a 'dairying novice' but what you might call a 'seasoned new entrant'.

So why did he make the move?

For Bernard the switch to dairying was income driven.

Although working 280ac - of which 135ac is owned and the remainder rented - and carrying 140 suckler cows and 250 ewes, Bernard was not convinced the returns off drystock could guarantee his future in farming.

"I wanted to be a fulltime farmer but the block of land we owned wasn't large enough to make a living from it as a drystock farmer so switching into dairying was the only option," he explains.

Bernard farms near Portlaoise and is married to Ciara. They have two children, Hannah is 11 and Mark is eight.

"I realised that dairying was the only way I could stay full-time farming and provide for my family."

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He now milks 155 Holstein-Friesians on a spring-calving system, and supplies Glanbia.

What advice would Bernard give to those in the process of making the move?

He is adamant that the biggest mistake new entrants make is not thinking and planning big enough.

"No one ever goes backwards, and very few stand still. Therefore you have to give your business the built-in flexibility to grow," Bernard explains.

"And that means that the facilities might not have to be big right now - but that they are extendable," he adds.

"You might only have land to milk 80 cows; however, land might become available at a later stage or the technology could change to allow you to carry 200 cows. So put in a 10-unit milking parlour but design it so that it's easily convertible to a 20-unit.

"Similarly, make sure the collecting yard can be easily extended for extra cows. Don't restrict your ability to expand by putting the yard up against a cubicle house or slatted unit," he adds.

Bernard also believes that many new entrants overestimate their ability to manage every aspect of the changeover and of the new business.

"Don't overestimate your skillset to manage. Don't take on too much," he advises.

"Why do new entrants insist on rearing calves when they might be in the middle of building a new milking parlour and farmyard," he asks.

"Buy in-calf heifers or cows. You'll have a cheque off the heifer or cow in three months," Bernard (below) maintains.

"You can learn how to raise dairy calves at a later stage. You don't need to do it in the middle of a major building project."

On the milking parlour front, Bernard believes there is no need of inspecting 20 or 30 different units.

"Keep it simple and limit the number you view," he says.

"Leaning on the farm contractor" and thereby freeing more time for the farmer to manage the farm and the herd is also important, Bernard insists.

Bernard maintains that a five- or six-year financial plan for the business is essential.

He says cashflow management is an element of dairying with which many drystock farmers are not familiar.

"The trick is knowing when to work out of cashflow and when to work off borrowing; that takes experience and planning."

Bernard admits to being a "big fan" of discussion groups.

"I joined a discussion group in September 2011 and started milking in spring of 2012," he says.

"The group visited the farm a few times during the changeover.

"They made some very good suggestions on stuff like the farm roadways. On the milking parlour there were few changes, but the visits put my mind at ease because I knew I was on the right track."

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