In this week’s Dairy Focus, Agriland made the trip to meet the Carey family on their dairy farm near Crissawn, Co. Westmeath.
Martin farms alongside his father and mother, milking 65 mainly Holstein Friesian-type cows on 52ac of land.
Chatting to Martin, he said: ”Mam, dad and I are here full-time. Over the summer months, my two nephews help around the farm and my brothers and uncle are great as well when we need help.
“I have three brothers and a sister. To be honest, I am lucky that my sister now lives in England because if she lived here I would have a fight on my hands.
”She has not been home since February 2020. But when she comes home she gets out of the car and straight into the wellies. It’s amazing, it’s like she can smell a sick animal.”
Speaking to Martin about the history of the farm, he stated: ”The farm has been in our family for at least four generations.
”My father (William) has been running the farm here since he was 20; he is now in his mid-70s. The farm would have been mixed with a bit of dairy, pigs and some tillage – it was quite small scale so we chose to focus on the dairy.
“We are milking around 65 cows and keep all the heifers and some choice bulls to sell as breeding bulls.
”We are selling some in-calf heifers, which is great at the end of the year for cash flow. We are primarily spring-milk but we would keep a few cows milking over the winter months.”
Commenting on his own background Martin said: ”I attended Gurteen Agricultural College in 2008 to complete the Green Cert.
”At that time Gurteen did not have the advanced dairy course so I then moved to Kildalton Agricultural College for an additional year and completed the advanced dairy course there.
”After finishing the course in 2009 I returned home to farm alongside my father and mother.
”I am engaged to Lisa and we have a one-year-old son Daniel – who is mad about the animals.”
Focusing on the breeding policy used on the farm, Martin said: ”Dad is currently picking the artificial insemination (AI) bulls for breeding; we are using the aAa breeding tool to get a type of cow that we want.
”We do not want a big sharp cow. We want a good square cow that will do everything we want. We do not pick bulls based on the economic breeding index (EBI), because we feel it does not focus enough on volume.
”The majority of the cows are pedigree Holstein Friesians, but we are trying to breed a smaller cow that is easier to manage.
“We are tight for land so we also need a cow that will give us as much production as possible.
”We do have a few Jersey crosses – I like them but for us, we need more volume.”
‘Herd averaging 35L at present’
Commenting on the herd’s performance, Martin said: ”We are feeding all the calves whole milk and sold 550,000L to Lakeland Dairies from the herd last year.
”Production is back on a normal year due to the dry weather. Cows are currently averaging 35L at 3.52% protein and 4.72% fat.
”We were feeding leftover silage bales from last year. I did not mind dropping back in milk once we did not lose embryos, which is a concern when cows get stressed.”
The real boss
Martin’s mother May is in her early ’70s and remains heavily involved in the farm.
Speaking about his mother, Martin said: ”Mam does 99% of the milking and is quick to tell us when a cow has to go.
“If there is a slow cow or one that is kicking too much she is quick to tell us, she has to go.
”Mam has been milking as long as I can remember; it started in the early ’80s when dad was out of action with appendicitis.
”At the time the cows were being milked in a bucket plant. We had some great help from our neighbours, but my mother and I are similar in that we do not like putting anyone to hassle.”
Martin continued: ”So, one morning mam got up and did the milking. She has been doing it ever since then.
”It is absolutely great having mam doing the milking; it frees up time to get other jobs done around the farm.
“She has mentioned retiring a few times, but I joke with mam that if she retires she loses the company credit card.
”She loves it, mam prefers to milk on her own and would tell me to get out if I was to come in. She is 100% the real boss and only for her we would be lost.”
Although it is a ‘Dairy Focus’, walking around the yard and speaking to Martin you are quick to notice the machinery, commenting on this he said: ”I do not drink or smoke but I often think it would be cheaper, because then I would not be going through Done Deal.
”Dad is into the machinery as well. We had a Nuffield tractor on the farm and dad always regretted selling the tractor. So for his 70th birthday, we bought him the same model Nuffield.”
“We have always done our own silage as long as I can remember. Dad started with double chops, then precious chops, then we had a wagon and we have now moved to round bales.
”A lot of people think it a lot more hassle, but once you have the bales wrapped you know they’re fairly safe and there is no messing with a silage pit.
”When your feeding you do not have to remove covers and tyres and in my opinion, it is a lot handier.
”Lisa did some of the wrapping until Daniel was born, while my two nephews do a lot of the wrapping now.
Martin continued: ”We started doing our own slurry after speaking with our vet. He told us the issue with using a contractor is other people’s slurry is mixed with yours, and it can lead to disease being spread from farm-to-farm.
”Last year we bought a new tanker with the trailing shoe. I would give up doing the slurry ourselves if I had to.
”But, I wouldn’t give up doing our own silage. When you are cutting silage – so is everyone else and contractors are not miracle men.
“You cannot blame the contractors because everyone is ringing them.
”When we have a field to be mowed we can do it ourselves and it is done. If the baler breaks down there are plenty of local people with one that you can call to help.”
Looking ahead to the future of the farm, he said: ”I am very lucky that the farm is very up-to-date, with very little investment needed.
”The only issue currently is the feeders in the parlour; we are currently putting meal into a loft so a bin is planned for the near future.
”We are lucky that we are not in major debt so when prices are bad we are okay and when prices are good, we can invest in the farm.
“We are tight for ground and I am not interested in going zero-grazing. So, expansion for us is not currently an option and it is looking like the creameries are not looking for more milk.
”It is hard to see current levels of milk production being sustained. But I hope it does – this year, prices have been good so far.
”Focusing on the farm, we are trying to become more environmentally sustainable and make better use of slurry and fertiliser.
“Like most farmers, I think farmers get a lot of blame for our lack of environmental sustainability.
”Dad and I would be very slow to remove hedges or trees and I think the majority of farmers are that way.”