Meet the milkman collecting milk this Christmas

Meet James Keary.

James has been a milk collection driver for, as he says himself, “I don’t know, maybe 12 years or so”.

It’s Christmas time, and James is out on the roads of Longford, Westmeath and Cavan collecting milk from dairy farmers who supply Lakeland Dairies. But for James whether it’s Christmas or summer, the job must be done.

“If we don’t make it to the farmer to empty the tank then they can’t milk the cows and they’re under pressure.

“We all need each other along the chain, so it doesn’t matter if it’s Christmas or if it’s the middle of the summer, the milk has to be collected.

“Look, it’s not so bad overall. There are lots of people with the feet up when you’re out and about but that’s the business and you get on with it,” James says.

James is one of 80 hauliers collecting milk from some 3,200 farm families across 16 counties both north and south of the border for Lakeland Dairies.

This Christmas, we took a trip with James on his collection route. His day involves collecting milk from farmers, bringing a full tank for processing into a range of dairy products in Baileboro, Co Cavan.

These products are shipped to some 80 countries across the world.

The days are long, especially in the peak milk production months of April to July.

“It’s usually a 6:30am start and you wouldn’t get finished until 9:00pm or 9:30pm,” James explains. He can cover over 300km on his daily route.

The whole process from cow to milk processing plant is done with military precision with exact routes for each driver mapped out. The haulier will collect from their farmers every day or every other day before bringing the milk for processing.

One of 11 children, milk collection and haulage is in the blood. The disease of trucking is hard to cure, James says.

“It’s a bit of a family affair alright. I’m at it, so is my father John. We work together and then my uncle Brendan is collecting milk for Lakeland too. I’ve a brother doing it too so there are a right few of us at,” he said.

James’ father has been collecting milk for some 58 years since the days of the old creamery cans and is “starting to consider” retirement, according to James.

James recently married Paula and plans to take a “mini-moon, I think they call it” in the coming weeks when things “get a little slacker”.

“January is the only real down time for us and it’s the time we try to get away. There’s a bit more pressure on me this year to get away with the wedding and all,” James jokes.

James has a wide and diverse type of farmers in his catchment area with herds of four cows up to herds of over 200 cows. On the Christmas trip, James covers eight or nine farmers in the area including: Colm McGerr; Ivor Lloyd: and Martin Reilly.

James has been collecting milk from Colm McGerr for many years and the two have a very good relationship.

For many, collecting milk around Christmas might seem mad for some, but milking cows 365 days a year is not for everyone.

“I enjoy it… it gets me away from the wife,” Colm joked. Colm is milk 39 cows at presents and enjoys the routine of milking cows even on Christmas morning.

“The work itself isn’t huge. At this stage of the year, it’s about 30 minutes of milking. I’m up and at it from 6:00am and get it done.”

James notes that his role is important for more than just collecting milk.

“A lot of farmers on these routes might not see people from one end of the day to the other so, I guess, it’s good to get into the yards and chat to the farmer too. There’s more to it than collecting milk,” James said.