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Sunday 19 November 2017

How this farmer brought lessons from New Zealand to his Offaly farm

My week... Padraig Keane

Padraig Keane on the family farm in Kilcormac, Co Offaly. Photo: James Flynn
Padraig Keane on the family farm in Kilcormac, Co Offaly. Photo: James Flynn

Ken Whelan

Padraig Keane took over the family farm four years ago and has transformed the home place from a beef operation to dairy enterprise.

The youngest of a family of seven, he was given the farming option by his parents when he graduated from UCD with a degree in Animal and Crop Production and to say he grasped the opportunity with both hands would be an understatement.   

The first big decision the 25-year-old faced was whether to continue working the 64-acre home farm and a 45-acre block at Kilcormac, near Birr, as a beef and tillage enterprise or make the switch to dairying.

He chose the dairy option and the results are impressive: from 45 cows in 2014, the herd grew to 65 cows in 2015, 100 in 2016 and 126 cows today.

His Holstein-Friesian herd produces high quality constituent milk for Glanbia and the farm itself has been transformed with a new milking parlour, new gravel pathways and a new water system across the holding. He has also been busy stitching clover into the farm swards to increase the milk yields and to reduce fertiliser costs. His next plan is to introduce Jersey crosses into the herd.

"I got a great start in that I qualified for quota as a young entrant when milk was at a great price a few years ago. And then I was lucky in that I qualified under TAMS I and II for grants for the milking parlour and other farm improvements.

"The milk price is not as good now as when I started but it's improving. We take a fixed price on half our milk to pay down the loans and keep the accounts balanced," he says.

'Hands-on'

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Padraig's parents, John and Gertrude, were both school teachers and they ran the inherited 45-acre block on a part-time basis as they pursued their individual careers and purchased what is now the home farm in the 1970s. Although now retired, they maintain a "hands-on interest in the farm and are invaluable with their advice", says Padraig.

So how did the youngest of seven take over the family farm, I wonder aloud and Padraig replies by listing the career path of his brother and five sisters.

Eoin is an orchard manager in Co Clare while his five sisters pursued more academic careers: Treasa is a civil engineer in New Zealand; Maire-Triona and Roisin are teachers; Grainne is a librarian and Siobhan is a technical writer for specialist publications.

After he graduated from UCD, Padraig spent a year working on a 550 cow dairy farm in New Zealand before returning home to set up his own dairy enterprise. "Why waste a good education in New Zealand and not put it to use in Kilcormac?" was his thinking.

With the dairy farm now in expansion mode Padraig is helped on site by local farmer Enda Grogan whom he describes as a "massive help" and by two local lads, John and Ciaran Moore.

Off-farm, Padraig's interests centre mainly around hurling - local and county - and more recently on country and western music, mainly at the instigation of his girlfriend Maria Blackwell.

"My favourite artist is Chris Stapleton if you ever heard of him? He is an acquired taste," adds Padraig.


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