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Jamie Kealy - Teagasc Glanbia Monitor Farmer

12 October 2018
Type Media Article


LONG TERM LEASE OPENS DOOR TO DAIRY FARMING FOR NEW ENTRANT

Jamie and Lorraine Kealy were new to dairy farming and have steadily built a successful enterprise within five years, based on seeking out and using advice to guide their plans. Living at Rathoe near Tullow, Co. Carlow they have a long term lease for a milking platform at Slaneyquarter.

Jamie was not from a farming background. His family were involved in building for generations. Jamie initially followed his father into carpentry but then moved to self-employment as a contractor. He became involved in agriculture through construction of housing facilities like slatted houses and land drainage.

‘I had grown up in the countryside and spent a lot of time on farms during summer holidays, so I had always been interested in farming – but there was no family history in farming.’ In 2003 Jamie and Lorraine took the plunge and bought a 6.47 hectare (16 acre) block of land. They started off with a beef enterprise, finishing heifers.

Jamie and Lorraine realised that they needed to learn as much as they could and joined the Teagasc/Farmers Journal Better Farm Programme. Although they had a beef enterprise at the time, Jamie says that it was a massive help to them when they decided to make the switch to dairy farming.

We developed a huge focus on grass – on the importance of measuring grass, budgeting grass and we could see how the work made a massive difference in terms of liveweight gains.’ The Kealys purchased a further 5.67 hectares (14 acres) by 2010 bringing their land to 12.14 hectares (30 acres).

LEASE OPTION

In 2013 the Kealys had the opportunity to enter into a long term lease for land. ‘We had done some work with the land owner and even explored the possibility of entering into a beef enterprise partnership with him. But when we sat down and looked at the figures, dairy farming presented a much better opportunity.’

Jamie and Lorraine signed a 15 year lease and feel they are very fortunate to have a good relationship with the land owner, who doesn’t hold them back.

The Kealys worked on a six year plan, getting support and input from Teagasc. They applied for a new entrant dairy quota in 2013 and began milking in Spring 2014, supplying milk to Glanbia.

We were tremendously lucky that the milking platform land we leased was good quality; and the owner already had quite good infrastructure in place in terms of housing. We put some additional cubicles into an existing shed; and used an existing structure to install an eight unit Boumatic milking parlour. We also made some improvements to roadways and water.’

LEARNING THE TEXT BOOK ‘LATEST’

‘We had never milked a cow before or run a dairy farm – so we knew we had a lot to learn. The advantage is that we felt we had to do everything by the text book, so it was the latest thinking. We brought no bad habits with us and there was nothing to interfere with our plans.’

Jamie went to a farm walk in 2014 and expressed an interest to the Teagasc advisor about the Teagasc/ Glanbia Monitor farm programme, which was setting up to help dairy farmers promote sustainable growth post-quotas. ‘We knew we had learned a lot from the Better Farm Programme for our beef enterprise and we knew we had a lot to learn about dairy farming.’

Getting involved in the Teagasc/Glanbia Monitor Farm programme came at the right time for us. It provided us with access to invaluable and progressive advice. We’re gaining a lot from it,’ says Jamie.   If he was to zone in on three areas they have benefited from the most, he would say it was grassland, breeding, and cash flow/financial planning.

QUICK GROWTH NEEDED

‘Once we signed the lease we had to pay the costs every year, so we needed to grow numbers quickly,’ says Jamie.

Our target was to have 130 cows by 2019. We started off with 64 in-calf heifers in 2013/2014. We currently have 98 milking cows with 44 in-calf heifers and a further 40 ‘0-1s’ in the system. The milking parlour had space and was expanded to a 12 unit by Spring 2017'.

The herd is mainly Holstein Friesians with a small bit of Jersey through it and it is a Spring calving herd. They started milking with heifers that calved compactly and had a high EBI. Jamie set a target of 90% and usually exceeds that.

In 2017 94% of heifers were calving at 22-26 months. The bull calves are sold early with the rest brought back to the home block where Lorraine manages the rearing. ‘Removing them from the main herd works well from a herd health point of view also.’   The Kealys have worked closely with Glanbia’s vet Shane McElory and have a Herd Health Plan in place including vaccination programme. They are also taking part in a Johnes Programme.

GRASSLAND AND SOIL FERTILITY

The overall farm is now 67 hectares with 37 hectares of a milking platform and the rest of the land dedicated to replacements and silage.

The land leased for the milking block was in super fertility and had good soil indexes. The owner had already reseeded 15% of it before the Kealys signed their lease. They knew the first two years would be lowly stocked so it was a good chance to get more reseeding done. A further 50% was reseeded in the second year.     Jamie says it has made a phenomenal difference compared to the old swards.

In 2015 we took on a separate piece of land which had been in tillage. The soil fertility there was much poorer and grass was poorer, which shows how hard it can be to build up land which had been in tillage and to convert it to dairy.’ Overall figures for soil fertility have improved with pH >6.3 at 88% in 2017 up from 66% in 2015. K index 3/4 was at 54% and at 45% in 2015. P Index 3/4 is 81% in 2017.

Whilst we had experience of grassland management, the Monitor Farm programme showed us how it was a whole different ballgame in dairy.   It concentrated on grass a lot, on growing and managing grass properly and we can see the benefits of that in the cows straight away, in their milking and performance'.

The Kealys were achieving 16 Kg DM/hectare grass growth in 2017 – up from 13.2 Kg DM/hectare in 2015.   In 2014 milking platform stocking rate was 1.89 (Lu/Ha) which had increased to 2.51 by 2017.

RETURNS

The Kealys have seen average milk yield increase from 5,405 litres per cow in 2014 to 6,812 in 2017; with milk solids per cow increasing from 435 Kg in 2014 to 566 Kg in 2017.

Once signed, the lease costs and expenses have been more or less the same and there was an initial investment of approximately €25,000 in materials for setting out paddocks, water improvement, milking parlour and upgrading facilities. But the herd has grown successfully in that time. Lorraine, who works part time as an Accounts Assistant, also helps with the books and figures.

The profit monitor results show the overall net profit per cow has jumped significantly, increasing from 450 to 1425 between 2014 to 2017. In that same period, costs reduced from 29.41 cent per litre to 18.49 cent per litre.

Jamie and Lorraine are very happy with progress. ‘‘We were very lucky to get into the Monitor Farm Programme. We have been careful about getting advice and then following the advice in a dedicated way,’ says Jamie. ‘We have had to follow the text book way of doing things as we didn’t know any other way. It has worked, although I still think we have more to learn.’

THE RIGHT CHOICE

A lot has been achieved by the Kealys in five years since starting in dairying with a lot of the work front loaded as it was an entirely new enterprise.

Jamie and Lorraine feel they have made the right choice for themselves and their children, Áilbhe (8) and James (4). ‘Farming allows us the flexibility to collect our children from school. It would be hard to have that privilege working off farm.