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Wednesday 12 December 2018

'The grass is hopping after the sunshine' - 120 cow Cork dairy farmer on getting through the fodder crisis

 

DJ Keohane with his cows on the farm in Timoleague, Co Cork
Photo: Denis Boyle
DJ Keohane with his cows on the farm in Timoleague, Co Cork Photo: Denis Boyle

Ken Whelan

DJ Keohane is touching wood and with a long-awaited pick up in grass growth is hopeful his two remaining weeks of fodder for his 120 Holstein-British Friesian herd will be sufficient to see them through.

"We've been lucky down here, we cut plenty of bales last year but this awful winter has to end sometime soon," he says, with the recent pick-up bringing a reprieve.

He says they began by letting them out for an hour or two in the mornings and they were happy to get out of the sheds. "But mainly they have been indoors," the 46-year-old explains.

He says the "bawling from the sheds" was a nightmare when they began bulling.

The change in the weather conditions last weekend allowed DJ to get his herd out on to grass during the days from Wednesday last and he is keeping his fingers crossed that the predicted "mixed weather" for this week will not mean a return to the sheds.

The welcome return of some sunshine late last week has quickly dried out the ground in Timoleague and has improved grass growth. "The grass is hopping after the sunshine last week and if this keeps up we will be alright," DJ says.

On the herd side he is getting on top of dosing and vaccinating the herd while on the farm he is quickly finishing applying fertiliser to the remaining fields and emptying the slurry pits.

"The last month has been very bad for farmers around here but the weather is certainly getting better now. If it disimproves over the next few weeks I don't know what we will do," says DJ.

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It's all very stressful and as luck would have it he got a call from Bord Bia last week to tell him about a pending inspection in May. "I told the fella, 'do you really think I need a phone call like this right this now?'"

The grass may be hopping with the better weather, but whether the milk price he is getting from Barryroe will do likewise is another matter.

It was 35.5c/l at the beginning of the year but has dropped 2c/l since then and is expected to take another 2c/l dip in May.

Some 20pc of his milk was taken at the guaranteed price of 32.5c/l, which seemed like a good idea at the time.

DJ has been a farmer since he was 16 years of age when he joined his father, Donal, to run what was then a mixed enterprise.

He took over the 190-acre farm full-time back in 1995 after completing his Green Cert in Bandon.

DJ has a well-pebbled shoe when it comes to matters agricultural and what the Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed should be doing for the sector.

"The dominance of the supermarket chains and the hold they have over Irish agriculture has to be tackled.

"I know the EU is trying to do something about it but really the Minister for Agriculture should be doing more," DJ says.

"And while he is at it he could pay hisbills for the GLAS and Disadvantaged Areas scheme. And now that I think about it he could suspend all Department of Agriculture inspections for farmers during difficult periods like this."

DJ is married to Fiona, who is a teacher in a local secondary school and the couple have five young children - Mary Rose (12), Cliona (11), Grainne (9), Daniel (7) and James (3).

Young Daniel is showing the most promise when it comes to keeping the Keohane name on the farming map in Timoleague for the next generation.

DJ is helped on the farm by a local man who comes in four days a week and at the weekends by his brother Kieran, who works at Clonalkilty agricultural college.

Off-farm, DJ's only interest is ploughing - a hark back to his father's time at the mixed enterprise.

"My father was ploughing mad and so am I," says the two-time All-Ireland champion in the U-21 and Macra classes.

"I'm still mad about the ploughing and have been competing years now and will probably continue to compete," he says.

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