New entrant dairy farmer triples size of herd in 3 years

Padraig Keane milks 126 cows with his father John in Kilcormac, Co. Offaly. Having started out with a six-unit temporary parlour, milking 45 cows, Keane has come a long way since making the decision to enter dairying in 2013.

Speaking with AgriLand at the recent Moorepark ’17 open day, Keane told his story as a new entrant dairy farmer and had some advice for people thinking about getting into the industry.

Keane graduated from University College Dublin (UCD) with a Bachelor of Agricultural Science in 2012 and spent eight months in Waikato, New Zealand, milking 550 cows in a 40-unit herringbone parlour.

On his return to Ireland, Keane completed a second calving and mating season on a 180-cow farm with Jim and Grainne Dwyer in Borris-in-Ossory, Co. Laois.

For young people thinking about entering dairy, take your time.

“They might have a block of land at home that’s conducive to dairying, but the best thing to do maybe is to take the time to get experience on other farms before you go back home.

“I got a couple of years of experience before going back home and I think that really stands to me. If anything, I would have preferred to have got a few more years,” Keane said.

Keane did three months work experience with Kevin Heavin on a 110-cow farm in Co. Offaly during his time in UCD. That’s where he believes he got the bug for dairying.

“Kevin was the Young Farmer of the Year in 2011 and gave me the enthusiasm for it,” Keane said.

Starting off as a new entrant

At 22-years-old, Keane received 200,000L of milk quota in 2013 through the New Entrant Scheme and started the conversion from beef to dairy on the home farm in Kilcormac, Co. Offaly.

Using his savings, Keane put in a looped water system and new water troughs on the farm, as well as a road network.

The Keane family started out with a six-unit temporary parlour, milking 45 cows in the first year in 2014 and 65 cows in 2015.

The abolition of milk quotas for us was a major thing; it allowed us to increase our production and expand our cow numbers.

“Last year, we milked 100 cows; 75 of our own and 25 leased-in cows. We were very lucky and we really appreciated getting them because it gave us the opportunity to go up in numbers without having to spend because we had already borrowed.”

The Keanes built a new 14-unit milking parlour and additional housing in 2016. “We spent the best part of two years going around to different dairy farmers asking their advice and looking at different setups.

He added: “Just there this week we put in six more units and we’re gone to ACRs.

“The great thing about dairying is that dairy farmers – established guys – they don’t mind people coming round and asking them about their system or milking parlour or about their cows.

“Dairy farmers are very open and will share all this information with you,” Keane said.