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Dairy Farmer Profile - Dara & Charles Killeen

Dara and Charles Killeen from Eyrecourt, Co Galway, began dairy farming in 2019 with 95 in-calf heifers and have increased to 153 cows milking this year. Prior to this, Dara and his father were farming 500 ewes and 120 beef cattle. Martina Gormley & Patrick Gowing, Dairy Specialists have the details


Why consider dairy farming?

The decision to convert to dairying was based on improving work-life balance and also to increase farm profitability so that the farm would support a second farm income. These were the main drivers for this conversion.

Challenges converting to dairying

• Understanding the business plan and getting comfortable with the figures

• Managing existing drystock with dairy stock and the new build.

• Learning a new skillset.

To overcome these challenges, Dara found joining the Aurivo focus farm programme, attending discussion group meetings, using the Teagasc farm expansion programme and having other dairy farmers to contact, was essential to the success of the conversion. “I used all help and advice that I could get and I suppose I implemented what I needed from each,” says Dara. “I joined a dairy discussion group prior to starting dairying and this group came to the farm and they were a great help in the farmyard planning.”

Advice to anyone starting dairying

• Take your time.

• Don’t compromise on stock quality over price.

• Have an accountant that you trust to discuss business structures and reliefs.

• Have a strong business plan that you understand.

• Have a good working relationship with your bank, where you feel comfortable to call or email with questions.

“For us, the improvement in work–life balance is a massive benefit from converting to dairying. When we were drystock farming we were very busy in the spring lambing down 500 ewes. The difference now is that we can afford to pay for help in the busy times. “This year, we have one part-time person who works 20 hours per week and we also have a college student who works with us at weekends and when on leave from college. My father also helps out on the farm, so all in all including myself there are two full-time people working on the farm. This means I am not tied to the farm and can take time off from the farm.”

Are there any negatives to dairy farming?

“To be honest so far, I can’t think of any negatives. The plan that was initially put in place is coming together nicely. One downside in comparison to drystock could be the level of borrowings. “I did find this daunting in the initial stages of conversion but I am not overly concerned now. This is because I have bought the right stock and invested money into a farmyard that allows for excellent cow flow and land improvements and that will grow grass which is by far our cheapest feed.”

Pat Gowing, Teagasc farm expansion specialist, has been working with new entrants to develop their farm business plan since quotas were abolished. “Converting your farm to dairying takes time and a lot of planning. Developing a good capital budget for the project is essential. An underfunded business plan can struggle with cash-flow as extra cash will be required to finish the development of your farm. “Every farm is unique and will have different requirements to convert. Some units will have very good grazing infrastructure on farm while other farms could require up to €800/ ac of investment to bring the grazing platform up to scratch. “Build your budget by starting with the items that will give you the highest return. Investing in the right stock and grass will yield the highest return. Too often, a large proportion of the budget is sucked up in the parlour or housing which leaves a smaller budget for stock and grass. This will negatively impact on your plan as you have not invested your money where you will get the largest returns. “Converting your farm is a longterm investment. Spread the new borrowings over the maximum time you are allowed, to help protect cash flow in the start-up years. In the early years, output will be building gradually because your herd will be young and growing. During this time, protecting your cashflow is key.