New entrant dairy farmer focuses on cow comfort while growing his business

To operate a truly successful dairy business, there are a number of boxes all dairy farmers need to tick when it comes to managing their cows.

Alongside nutrition, grassland management and milking skills, dairy farmers also need to ensure that their cows are happy and healthy.

Ensuring this will have a positive impact on the dairy farm’s bottom line and that the returns generated for each monthly milk cheque are maximised.

Tomorrow, a new entrant dairy farmer will map his dairy farming journey; he will also discuss the steps taken to maximise cow comfort through the use of EASYFIX cubicles.

Developing a dairy farming business in Co. Clare

Ciaran O’Connell and his wife Teresa are new entrant dairy farmers who milk a herd of 80 cows on the east Clare hills above Ardnacrusha.

Ciaran and his two brothers, Colm and John, grew up on the farm next door with their parents Joe and Geraldine.

In 2012, the three brothers inherited the farm from their late uncle who had previously been dairying; but he had semi-retired to drystock in the late 1990s.

“Colm and John were working away; so it made sense for me to lease their portions and go into dairying.

“I had been working long hours between contracting and driving a milk lorry and this was also an opportunity to work closer to home and my young family.

“I was spending two or three hours a day in the yard with the sucklers anyways; so I said I might as well be milking and getting the monthly cheque,” Ciaran explained.

Facilities

On taking over the farm, Ciaran quickly realised that the yard was not for suitable for a 100-120 cow herd. To solve this, the Clare-based farmer planned to build and construction began on a new slatted tank, cubicle house and parlour in May 2014.

“That year was hard going as I was still driving, so I was working away in the evenings and days off.

“But, I couldn’t have done it without the help of my father Joe. I’d often pass on the road back home in the lorry and it could be near midnight and I’d see the lights of the digger in the yard and my father working away.”

Ciaran is very appreciative of the flexibility of dairying compared to when he was driving. He can now do school runs and be at home with the family for breakfast and dinner.

Choosing EASYFIX cubicles

Choosing EASYFIX cubicles for the new 53-cubicle shed in 2014 was a no-brainer for the new entrant dairy farmer; he had seen enough cows stuck in cubicles in his uncle’s time milking.

I had seen the EASYFIX cubicles on other farms and knew instantly they were the answer. We have a few very large cows here and the bit of flexibility in the cubicles means they are not going to get hurt stepping up into the cubicle bed.

“As well as that, they seem very sturdy and hard to break and I will be well gone before they would ever rot,” he joked.

Given the comfort, space and hygiene advantages, it was an easy decision for Ciaran to replace the 37 old steel cubicles in the existing slatted shed with EASYFIX cubicles in 2016.

A new portal-frame shed was erected to house the parlour and dairy in late 2014.

The design was well thought through, with a wide unobstructed entrance and exit to maximise efficiency of cow flow.

All was designed with the option to add four more units to the 14-unit Boumatic Gascoigne Mellotte herringbone parlour in further years as the herd expands.

Second-hand manual pig feeders were installed in the parlour. All the dairy feed for the cows and nuts for the calves is supplied by Paul & Vincent.

At 6ft 3in Ciaran made sure the design incorporated an extra wide and deep pit.

With the amount of time I was going to be spending down there, I didn’t fancy being stooped the whole time and coming up with back pains in the evening.

Asked about plans for further developments around the farm Ciaran joked: “Sure you’d never be finished.

“The day you have all those jobs finished in farming is the day you’d die.

“There are plans to do several kilometers more fencing and although 2km of roadways have been laid and 50 acres of reseeding done already; those jobs are still on-going too.

“There are plans to finish concreting around the yard this year, as well as reseeding and drainage works.”

O’Connell Quarries, who are based locally, supplied all the concrete for the work completed to date. Another local company Liffey Mills supplies the fertiliser for grazing and silage on the 190ac farm.

When and where?

Ciaran and Teresa O’Connell are looking forward to welcoming other dairy farmers and new entrants to the open day on their farm at Ballycar, Ardnacrusha, Co. Clare.

The open day will take place on Thursday, August 17 from 10:30am to 3:00pm.

Representatives from EASYFIX, Boumatic, Liffey Mills, Paul & Vincent and O’Connell Quarries will be available to discuss options for new dairy entrants at the event.

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