Farm Ireland

Saturday 24 February 2018

'Something has to be done before more farmers leave the sector'

My week: Tim Fitzgerald

Tim Fitzgerald and his daughter Bronagh do the weekly grass measuring on the family farm at Ballyroan, Co Laois. Photo: Alf Harvey/HR Photos.
Tim Fitzgerald and his daughter Bronagh do the weekly grass measuring on the family farm at Ballyroan, Co Laois. Photo: Alf Harvey/HR Photos.
Tim Fitzgerald looks over the herd. Photo: Alf Harvey.

Ken Whelan

Tim Fitzgerald is a bit of a perfectionist which is useful if you are a farmer whose herd has been in the top 10 of the national EBI Index for the past number of years.

He runs a dairy and pure bred bull enterprise on his 135 acres at Ballyroan, near Abbeyleix in Co Laois, and supplies Glanbia with milk with 550 kgs of solids.

He prefers to classify his milk in solids rather than volume. "There's not much point in classifying the water content of the milk," he says.

But there is a real point in breeding efficient cows with good fertility if you want to run an economic dairy enterprise.

The 48-year-old also runs a pure bred bull enterprise on the farm which he says is both "time and land consuming" but it generates about 20pc of the farm's income.

"I hold on to 12 to 15 of the newborn bulls every year and sell them on at around 14 months old; the buyers come from Armagh to the Allihies and, of course, the AI companies," he says.

The bull breeding started as a hobby 10 years ago, but has since developed into a serious interest, he explains.

His best bull so far has been 'Ballymac Timothy' - called after himself and the townland where he lives. "I didn't name him - the people at the registration office did that", he modestly points out.

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"The young bulls are seriously difficult to handle and manage. It's difficult keeping bulls on a farm with females. They have to be kept in their own fields so that they cannot mix with the livestock and they have to be securely penned when they are in the sheds. That's the way it is with young bulls," he adds.

"I like to finish on the farming side by 6pm though I have to admit much of my spare time is taken up with studying breeding and what have you.

"And when I am talking to my farming friends about solids and bull breeding the talk can go on until one in the morning," he says.

So I suggest that he must be a martyr for going to agricultural shows and the like to keep up with the latest developments in the EBI world and bull breeding genetics.

"No," is the reply. "Going to these shows just looks like more farming to me. I go to the Ploughing and a few other bits and pieces but that's about the height of it."

Most of his spare time is devoted to family life.

He runs the home farm with the help of his wife Gillian and they have four daughters - Aishling, who is away working as a hairdresser in Clonmel and the three younger, GAA crazy girls Rachel (15), Roisin (12) and Bronagh (10).

"Bringing them to and from football and camogie matches takes up all of my time away from the farm. It's a question of coming in from the farm, having a shower and hopping in to the car with them and off to a match.

"The three of them play for the local Ballyroan club and Rachel is playing for the county U 16 football team playing centre-forward.

"We're all over the place supporting the girls. It's a great way of seeing the country," he says.

Family holidays include touring Gite sites in France and trips to relations up in Buncrana in Co Donegal.

"That's a great place when the sun is shining," says Tim.

But back to the farm - what does he think of the milk price? "There will have to be some sort of EU intervention until things improve. There have been casualties already and something will have to be done before more farmers leave the dairy sector," he says.

Indo Farming