'There's always help out there and we hope this programme will be able to help others'

My Week Siobhán English talks to Bill Gleeson

Tyre-ing work: Bill Gleeson on his farm in Tipperary; inset: on his tractor. Photo: Liam Burke/Press 22
Tyre-ing work: Bill Gleeson on his farm in Tipperary; inset: on his tractor. Photo: Liam Burke/Press 22

When young dairy farmer Bill Gleeson first stood up in front of dozens of young men and women earlier this year to speak about his own mental health, little did he realise the positive impact it would have on those around him.

"I was absolutely terrified on the night, but afterwards I was thrilled to learn that several others later came forward to share their own experiences. I was inundated with text messages," says the north Tipperary man of the workshop that also saw other young farmers speak openly to the audience about their own lives.

"It can be the loneliest place in the world but there's always help out there and we hope this programme will be able help others."

Bill is referring to the pilot programme 'Make the Moove - Farmers Matter' which was established earlier this year by North Tipperary Macra na Feirme in conjunction with Healthy Ireland.

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Bill is now one of the facilitators on the programme, which has been put forward for funding from the Department of Agriculture.

"It is being run by Johnny Dwyer and John Keane and they have done great work so hopefully it can be an ongoing support service and possibly the idea can be rolled out to other areas across the country," he says.

Bill Gleeson on his tractor
Bill Gleeson on his tractor

Life is good now for Bill, and in recent weeks he completed another interview in a bid to make the final of the FBD Young Farmer of the Year Awards, which take place in Dublin on November 26.

It would be fitting to see the 30-year-old get through to the final group given his positive attitude towards dairy farming, especially since forming a partnership with his father, Mort, in April.

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It was only after a stint on a dairy farm in New Zealand in 2013 that Bill decided it was the career for him. He later completed his Green Cert in Gurteen.

"I worked at home for a few years and, on the advice of Michael Ormonde in Templemore, entered a partnership with Dad," he says.

Although Bill admits that not much has changed since then, it does give him a focus going forward and he hopes to make some changes that will make the farm more efficient. He has also applied for a grant for a new milk tank and weighing scales.

They milk 90 cows, the majority of which are Holstein crosses, and supply Arrabawn in Nenagh.

"At the moment our yields are slightly down to roughly 17 litres, with 5.14pc fat and 3.9pc protein, but my aim is to improve those figures," he says.

Bill says their land is quite fragmented, and this can be challenging, but the introduction of zero grazing 13 years ago has made life somewhat easier.

"We started zero grazing when no one was really doing it. The cows live out and grass is given to them inside before and after milking about 80 or 90 days of the year, depending on the weather.

"The home farm is small - about 45 acres - and the out-farm is three miles away, so without zero grazing a dairy herd would be unsustainable."

Bill and his father rear all the bull calves for slaughter at around 21 months, with many of the heifers kept as replacements. "We have been supplying beef to ATP in Nenagh for many years and have a good relationship with them," he says.

Of the recent protests, Bill can fully understand where some farmers were coming from.

"It was tough on everyone and I really felt sorry for them," he says. "With dairying you know you will get a cheque every month, but with beef you could be waiting a long time for it."

During his time in New Zealand in 2013 Bill observed how other farms operate, and he says that Ireland has high standards when it comes to animal husbandry.

"For farmers in New Zealand the herds are enormous and it is very much a business.

"It's a business for farmers here too but as the numbers are smaller their value would be higher and they are quick to spot and treat sick animals," he explains.

Animal welfare is also a major priority for Bill during the spring calving season.

"We start around January 25 and thankfully most calve without any assistance at all - we never have to use a jack. When I am sourcing bulls - usually from Dovea Genetics - I will use one that has a reputation for easy calving."

In the meantime Bill is looking forward to a few days' break away with Macra next month.

"This year we are heading to Bratislava. My father has his interest in racing - he has a few in training with Charles Byrnes - so between us we divide the time off."

When Bill returns he will get back to organising a fund-raiser for Nenagh Macra - he is chairman - in Buddy's of Capparoe on December 7.

"Macra is great to get young people together and it looks like it's going to be a great night out," he says.

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