Farm Ireland

Sunday 18 March 2018

Differing paths but same career for these dairy folk

Darragh McCullough

Darragh McCullough

A number of farmers took part in an open forum where they outlined to a large audience of farmers how they had progressed in dairying up to now.


Enda Hawe is a native of Kilkenny but has lived and worked in New Zealand for the last 12 years, where he was recently awarded the prestigious title of Sharemilker of the Year.

The 35-year-old grew up on a 30-cow dairy farm in Windgap, but after completing an agriculture degree in UCD, Mr Hawe headed to New Zealand where he worked on beef and deer farms before starting as an assistant dairy farm manager.

This was his first move into New Zealand dairying that has seen Mr Hawe get to the stage where he now is in a 50/50 sharemilking arrangement, where he owns 820 cows and shares the profits from the herd with a farm owner a 40-minute drive from Christchurch on New Zealand's South Island.

Mr Hawe admitted that he was always driven, but that anyone prepared to put in the hard work could get to a point where they owned their own farm in New Zealand.


Sean Roberts farms 250ac at Old Ross, Co Wexford. In 2010 the 43 year-old suckler and tillage farmer started milking cows for the first time in his life.

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"When the sugar beet wound up in 2005, I decided to concentrate on the suckling," he said.

"But when I was doing the profit monitor I could see that for every €10 I was making, €8 was coming from the Single Farm Payment. I could also see that the dairy lads were the opposite – €8 of every €10 they made was coming from the cow," he said.

He applied for and secured 200,000 litres of quota under the new entrant scheme in 2009 and started in the spring of 2010.

"I thought this was dead handy initially and quickly increased my cow numbers from 44 to 104. I got away with it but looking back I can see how crazy that was," admitted Mr Roberts.

Today, the father of five milks 118 cows and plans to increase that to over 200 when quotas go in 2015.

However, it has been a serious learning curve during the last three years.

"In suckling if the cow goes lame or she gets mastitis, sure, what about it? She can always milk away on three teats and she might cure herself of the lameness. But it's a completely different ball-game in dairying.

"And there's so much that you have to learn, even the small stuff. I remember the first time a fresh calver had bloody milk, I had to ring my dairy farmer friend to ask what to do," Mr Roberts told a laughing audience.

"It was daunting, but there's no joy in calving suckler cows either, the first thing she'll want to do is kill you."


Carrigaline farmer David Jennings decided to return from New Zealand to forge his career in the dairy sector.

The 37-year-old grew up on a suckler farm and got his green cert in Clonakilty Agricultural College. After nearly four years in the Farm Apprenticeship Scheme and a stint on three different dairy farms in New Zealand, he came home to a job as a farm manager on a 100-cow dairy farm in Cork.

When his wife's parents decided to retire from milking 60 cows near Dunmanway in 2007, Mr Jennings took on the farm and went into an equity partnership with the family that he had worked for the previous eight years. Today, Mr Jennings milks 240 cows on this same farm, and the Dunmanway farm is used to carry replacement stock.

"If I had stayed as a farm manager, I would never have been doing it for myself. The next step is to milk 300 cows, but quota is the limiting factor at the moment," he said.


In 1996 Kevin Heavin and his father upgraded their twin bucket, tie-up milking shed to a six-unit parlour to milk their 11 cows. Mr Heavin was working part-time in a local window and door suppliers but always wanted to be a full-time farmer.

In 2001 his father retired and Kevin assumed control of the 24-cow herd with 29ac. One of the first things he did was lease a 30ac land block from a neighbour.

By 2005 he was able to give up the off-farm work, invest in a 12-unit parlour and new cow housing.

Today he milks 113 cows and leases 125ac from seven different landowners. "The minimum lease that I will entertain now is 10 years because I'm investing around €650/ha to bring the land productivity up to spec," said Mr Heavin.

He has invested over €100,000 in milk quota to supply Arrabawn.


With no home farm, Graham Swanton had a bigger hill than most to climb his way into farming in Ireland.

After studying agriculture in Waterford IT, Mr Swanton went to Wales as part of his professional work experience. Within six short months, he found himself managing 580 cows, and this proved to be the springboard into further opportunities back home.

Mr Swanton is now managing a 490-cow herd in Clonmel with a share in the profits from the operation. The 28-year-old's goal is to milk his own cows.

Irish Independent