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Independent.ie

Thursday 20 September 2018

'We haven't had three dry days here since July' - Dairy farmer on managing one of Ireland's top EBI herds

From 12 cows and a flock of ewes to one of the highest EBI herds in the country

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Ken Whelan

Enda Barrett took a holiday with his wife Maura and daughter Mairead in New York over Christmas to "do something different".

It also helped to clear his head before the calving season at his pedigree dairy farm in Kilconnell outside Ballinasloe where many of his 98 Holsteins are ready to go over the next six weeks.

"Maura has an aunt and an uncle over there and we were staying in a hotel on 6th Avenue. We had a good time with the relations but all New Yorkers seemed to do is mess around with their mobile phones. Not a word out of them. The next time I go that far it will be to somewhere like New Zealand," says the 52-year-old.

He was equally unimpressed with the weather on his return to Ireland for New Year's Eve. "We have had rain down here in Ballinasloe since July. We haven't had three consecutive dry days down here since the Galway Races but at least it has been nothing like 2012.

"We weren't the worst affected by the storms over the last few days. The farmers up in Sligo and Donegal seemed to have got the worst of it."

Enda runs a premier Holstein herd with one of the highest EBIs in the country at 116. The herd is producing 6,000 litres per cow at 4.2pc fat and 3.6pc protein.

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He supplies Arrabawn with over 500,000 litres of first-class milk annually and is happy with the 38c/l with bonuses he is receiving. He doesn't expect a huge variation in the milk price this spring.

He uses AI on the breeding side of the operation at Kilconnell and employs some casual labour during the springtime calving rush.

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"I am blessed with a good AI technician but I think I am breeding the size out of the Holsteins. We will have to look at that," he says.

He started off with a mixed operation back in the early 1990s when he left his full time job with Bord na Móna to concentrate on farming: "You can't work for two masters," he points out.

Back then he had 12 cows and a flock of ewes on the 55-acre home farm and soon made the decision to concentrate on dairying.

It was no cheap task as he had to buy milk quota to expand his Holstein herd which cost him over €125,000 at the time. It also involved expanding the farm through land purchases and leasing.

"I remember offering a farmer €100,000 for seven acres before the economic crash and it wasn't enough but when the downturn came he jumped at €60,000 for the land."

He now farms 75 hectares in the Kilconnell area which includes an out farm some 10 miles away which he uses for his feed supplies and for calf rearing.

He is fulsome in his praise for his older farming neighbours "who have always been helpful with advice. I learned a lot from them," he says.

"The best advice I got when I was starting out was that I would make mistakes but the secret was to make small mistakes."

Off farm he takes a passing interest in the GAA and has an avid interest in farmer discussion groups.

He also finds time to dance in Ballinasloe with his wife Maura, who works as a part- time secretary.

He also follows his daughter's academic career with a keen interest. Mairead (21) is at UCD completing a German and History degree and intends to do her Masters in either Berlin or Munich.

"I enjoy ribbing her and always tell her that history is the past tense but she never bats an eye. She is too engrossed in her books," says the self-made farmer.

In conversation with Ken Whelan


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