Farm Ireland
Independent.ie

Saturday 21 April 2018

From Manchester City to managing 400 dairy cows

Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto
Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Martin Ryan

A city born and bred man, who as a teen realised he had "a passion for agriculture" is living his dream as a share farmer of a 400-cow dairy herd at 28 years and already planning for a second dairy platform.

Matthew Jackson was brought up in Manchester City with no agricultural background, and his only previous farming experience confined to an after-school job on a local farm and time spent holidaying in Wales. 

After his GCSEs he took the opportunity to work on a friend’s sheep and dairy farm in north Wales with the intention of staying a couple of months...and he has never looked back is pursuit of his dream lifestyle in full time farming.

He told the riveting story of how he progressed so far, so quickly to an amazed attendance of almost 500 Irish and International delegates at the Positive Farmers Two Day 'sell out' conference at Cork.

"I can't say that I enjoyed school, I left it at 15 with no qualifications and after much debate, my parents agreed that I could go to the farm where we camped, to stay with the farmer and his family for a four month period, Lambing sheep and milking his 35 cows" he told them.

"On my 16th birthday I bought a 50cc moped and this allowed me to travel and find more farm work. I was working three jobs and learning from scratch, doing everything from stonewalling, fencing, sheep work and rearing turkeys for extra cash", he said.

He travelled to New Zealand when he was 17 years old to work with a shearing contractor for three months and realised that working the body that hard was not sustainable.

On his return he met Rhys Williams and David Wynne Finch who were milking 1,100 cows on a New Zealand style, block calving, grass based system just two miles away and pleaded with them for a full time position to which they agreed, only on condition that he went back to NZ to be trained.

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Over six months he learned a lot about grass grown, grass utilised, residuals and fertility, the importance of monitoring grass after securing a full time job as a junior herdsman on a 300ha, 1,100 cow farm which was a simple, efficient and profitable business. 

"In 2009 I used part of my wages to buy my first 20 weaned heifer calves and I had found 8 acres of poor quality grassland to rent bringing me a £7,000 profit when I sold them the following spring. I thought I was rich, this was the most money I had ever had and I knew I was going to invest wisely,"  he explained.

Using this money he purchased another 47 weaned heifer calves, secured another 15 acres and realised a similar profit per head. 

By 2011 he had purchased 82 heifers and rented another 50 acres, bought a quad bike to draw a small fertiliser spreader while saving every penny possible, established good relations with his back, on the way to securing a £30,000 loan.

By 2013 he had the opportunity to manage the 300ha farm and owned 50 leased cows, 109 bulling heifers and 110 weaned heifer calves and was thinking about share farming because "soon I would have to either sell all of them before calving, lease them all out which was risky, or find an opportunity to milk them in my own right".

That‘s when David Wynne Finch offered him a 50/50 share farming opportunity just two miles away from where he worked and where he originally camped as a child.

By 2014 there was 350 cross bred heifers being milked on the farm run as a one man operation for nine months of the season and the farm is run with one full time staff member and himself, for relief through calving. 

"We have lifted numbers to 400 cows and the business is a "Iean machine", generating cash and surplus stock and allowing me to think big" he said.

"My short term goal is to locate a second unit, providing opportunities and to be involved in other people’s progression, sharing the cake and giving back to society" he concluded which is not bad for the one time city lad.

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