Farm Ireland

Saturday 21 July 2018

Kilkenny man giving up lorry driving and building up a 116-cow dairy herd from scratch


Michael Norton
Michael Norton

Ken Whelan

TAKING over a family farm that has been leased is a gradual process, but building up a dairy herd from scratch takes entrepreneurial nerve.

It's a punt that has paid off for Kilkenny farmer Michael Norton whose herd is producing 500,000 litres of milk for the Glanbia plant in Ballyragget.

There are plans to up this to 700,000 litres over the next few years.

Make your mind up time for Michael came in 2006 when his father Pascal decided to retire from farming, de-stock the 60ha home farm and lease the land.

Michael, who was working as a lorry driver at the time for companies including Bulmers, Irish Rail and Irish Cement, decided to lease a portion of the home farm to keep the family's farming tradition going.

Over the following five years, he leased back the remainder of the land.

"My dad had been considering retiring but when they put the motorway through the farm that made up his mind. I told him I would lease part of the land and put some cows on it and he said if that's what you want go for it."

He took a lease on the 27ha near the home; 33ha on the other side of the motorway was leased for five years to another farmer.

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Michael immediately began stocking the farm - "€1,200 a cow at the time" - as he puts it.

Today he has a herd of 116 Jerseys, British Friesians and Holsteins and various crosses producing his milk on the Kilkenny-Waterford border.

He says Glanbia "have been fierce helpful right from the start. They helped me put the structures in place to get me going and sent out managers to advise me on how best to build up the herd. They were great."

Michael is also happy with the current Glanbia milk price which he describes as "very comfortable."

I ask Michael what lessons he learned while re-establishing the Norton farm which has been run by three generations of the family.

"The banks will give you money for everything you don't want," he replies.

He recalls asking for a substantial loan to build up the herd in the early days only to be offered a derisory amount despite the fact that he was milking over 100,000 litres at the time.

Off-farm his main interests are all family-focused. His wife Theresa lectures in accountancy at Thurles IT.

"She tells me where I am going wrong with the figures," he quips.

The couple have four young children: Aishling (9), Michael (8), Roisin (5) and Niamh (3).

And, of course, hurling figures as an interest given where Michael hails from.

His form guide for this year's All Ireland hurling championship is straightforward.

"Kilkenny will be quiet this year, Tipperary maybe but Cork are the best team."

Reigning champions Galway are mentioned as a maybe with last year's finalists Waterford rated as unlikely to go one better.

His interest in soccer stems mainly from his "neighbour up the hill", Ann Long, the mother of Irish international Shane Long.

"I knew Shane's dad - a lovely man - and Shane himself has a great following down here, especially among the youngsters," adds Michael.

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