Farm Ireland

Monday 23 April 2018

From working nights on the London Underground... to an idyllic farm on the shores of Dingle Bay

Ronán Sugrue, a Dairy Farmer from Baile an Ghoilín, Dingle, Co Kerry, milks 80 cows, and is in the process of expanding his herd and building an extra shed. The recent weather has proved difficult for farming .Photo:Valerie O’Sullivan
Ronán Sugrue, a Dairy Farmer from Baile an Ghoilín, Dingle, Co Kerry, milks 80 cows, and is in the process of expanding his herd and building an extra shed. The recent weather has proved difficult for farming .Photo:Valerie O’Sullivan
Majella O'Sullivan

Majella O'Sullivan

London is a far cry from the idyllic farm at Ballymacdoyle, Burnham on the shores of Dingle Bay, with views of Milltown across the water and Dingle town to the right of the frame.

Working the graveyard shift from 10pm to 6am while the city above slept was tough going, though the money was good.

"It was six nights a week, so it was tough enough going. I never really adjusted to it," says the 29-year-old, who had landed in London at 19, having decided the degree course in engineering at IT Tralee was not for him.

"I was always thinking about coming home. Dad had sucklers here, around 60 Simmental suckler cows, and I was mad to come home and mad to farm but I knew there was going to be no money in the suckler farming life."

Ronan returned to Dingle in 2012. He completed two years at Clonakilty Agricultural College, specialising in advanced dairy herd management.

The Ó Siochrú farm is part of the former estate of Lord Ventry, and the renovated family home was one of six labourers' cottages.

He points to a site next door with a mobile home, where he plans to build his dream home. He rents out the caravan during the summer for extra income.

In 2014 he and his father Joe began the process of converting the suckler farm into a profitable dairy enterprise. "During the two years I was in college, we started selling the sucklers and buying Friesian and Holstein calves in," he says of their partnership.

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Around this time he also held down two jobs in Dingle, as a waiter in a restaurant, and cleaning 12 holiday homes.

"During that time we were rearing the calves and inseminating them and they were going to be calving down in February 2014.

"Only for Mom (Mary) and Dad I'd have nothing," he says. "We spent a lot of money. The milking parlour was the biggest investment. We put in a 14-unit Dairymaster parlour with ACRs and automatic feeders, and new bulk tank. We spent a lot of money on farm roadways as well and reseeding."

Already there were around 50 existing cubicles and they put in another 15, providing accommodation for around 70 cows.

Ronan leases 63ac, about 20ac of which is part of the grazing platform. The home farm has about 70ac suitable to grazing and some woodland.

"Dad had a lot of work done here. We started milking then in February 2014 and I'd say it was one of the best years for dairy farming ever," he says.

"The weather was good, the price was very good; close to 40/l, and you couldn't have picked a better year to start.

"The following two years then, 2015 and 2016, I was probably making the same amount of money because they were producing more, even though milk price was poor enough. "This is my fourth year now and I'm milking 78 and I'd say the average age of the herd is 2.5 lactations so there's a lot left in them yet.

"They're really producing this year now and I'm hoping to sell 570kg milk solids per cow. At the moment they're milking 22l, 4.35pc fat and 3.89pc protein, so they're performing well."

Ronan advises anyone thinking about converting from suckler to dairying to pay close attention to where the stock is coming from.

"Only buy in stock from herds that you know. This might save you money in the long term as you won't end up getting rid of stock that is no good," he says.

Ronan is building a cubicle shed and plans to expand to about 100 cows. "I'll hit the brakes then after that, I'd say and we'll see how it goes. There's a fine line; one man can milk 100 cows but anything over that and you need help and you need 50 cows to pay for that help."


The cattle are usually out from mid-February to the end of November, in a good year, and he supplements them 1.7kg/cow ration as well as silage.

Ronan is the elder of two boys with two older sisters. Tríona is a social worker in Dublin, Emer is nursing in Cork, Muireann is in UCC, and Donnchadh is doing his Leaving Cert.

He continues to work off-farm, seven nights a week as a night porter in the Dingle Bay Hotel. He says he'll wait for signals on milk prices in the coming year before he makes a decision on that. He doesn't miss the travel or the weekends away and is certain he will remain farming on the Dingle Peninsula.

"If I'm even away for two or three days, I'm mad to come home. I'd be wondering about the cows. My girlfriend gives out to me.

"It's easy for me, I suppose. I'm young and enthusiastic. Will I be as enthusiastic in 30 years time? Hopefully I will be.

"I can't say I'm more interested than any other man because I haven't been doing it for long but I'm hooked at the moment anyway," he says.

Working nights below ground on London's Tube, Ronan Ó Siochrú was sustained by dreams of returning to the family farm in Kerry, writes Majella O'Sullivan

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