New dairy entrant Ciaran O’Connell is now milking 80 cows with his wife Teresa on the East Clare hills above Ardnacrusha. The O’Connell Family are hosting a dairy open day on Thursday 17th August, 2017 from 10.30am to 3.00pm.
Kieran and his two brothers Colm and John grew up on the farm next door, with their parents Joe & Geraldine. In 2012, the three brothers inherited the farm from their late-uncle who had previously been dairying but had semi-retired to drystock in the late 1990s.
“Colm & John were working away, so it made sense for me to lease their portions and become a new entrant to dairy farming”. “I had been working long hours between the contracting and driving a milk lorry and this was also an opportunity to work closer to home and the young family”. “I was spending two or three hours a day in the yard with the sucklers anyway, so I said I might as well be milking and getting the monthly cheque!”
The facilities in his uncle’s yard were not suitable for the 100-120 cow herd Ciaran planned to build and so construction work began with digging out for a new 9ft slatted tank, cubicle house and parlour in May of 2014. “That year was hard-going, I was still driving; so was working away in the evenings and days off. But I couldn’t have done it without the help of my father Joe. I’d often pass on the road back home in the lorry and it could be near midnight but I’d see the lights of the digger in the yard and my father still working away!”
Ciaran is very appreciative of the flexibility of the dairying job compared to when he was away driving all hours. He can now do the school runs and be at home with the family for breakfast and dinner times.
Choosing the EASYFIX Cublicles for the new slatted 53 cow house in 2014 was a no-brainer for Ciaran. He had seen enough cows stuck in cubicles in his uncle’s time milking. “I had seen the EASYFIX cubicles and cow mats on other farms and knew instantly they were the answer.” “We have a few very large cows here and the bit of flexibility in the cubicles means they are not going to get hurt stepping up into the cubicle bed.” “As well as that, they seem very sturdy and hard to break and I will be well gone before they would ever rot” he jokes! Given the comfort, space and hygiene advantages, it was then an easy decision for Ciaran to replace the 37 old steel cubicles in the existing slatted shed with EASYFIX cubicles as well in 2016, rather than repairing them.
A new portal-frame shed was erected to house the parlour and dairy in late 2014. The design was well thought through, with a wide unobstructed entrance and exit to maximise efficiency of cow flow. All was designed with the option to add 4 more units to the 14-unit Boumatic Gascoigne Mellotte herringbone parlour in further years as the herd expands. Second-hand manual pig feeders were installed in the parlour. All the dairy feed for the cows and nuts for the calves is supplied by Paul & Vincent.
At 6’3” Ciaran made sure the design incorporated an extra wide and deep pit. “With the amount of time I was going to be spending down there, I didn’t fancy being stooped the whole time and coming up with back pains in the evening!”
Asked about plans for further developments around the farm Ciaran jokes – “Sure you’d never be finished. The day you have all those jobs finished in farming is the day you’d die!” There are plans to do several km more fencing and although 2km of roadways have been laid and 50 acres of reseeding done already; those jobs are still on-going too.
There are plans to finish concreting around the yard this year, as well as the reseeding and drainage works. O’Connell Quarries who are based locally supplied all the concrete for the work completed to date. Another local company Liffey Mills supplies the fertiliser for grazing and silage on the 190 acre farm.
An active participant in his local discussion group, Ciaran is always keen to acquire new knowledge and skills and believes that visiting other farms and examining his own mistakes and successes in that context gives him great ideas for improving his own business. “That’s also where I came across the EASYFIX cubicles and mats first and you meet a lot of very clued-in operators in the discussion groups.”
Given his thirst for knowledge as a new dairy entrant and refreshing approach to learning from any mistakes, one senses that the further expansion to 120 cows will be a journey made smoother by his hard work and honest attitude. Further exciting times in dairying certainly lie ahead for the O’Connells in the foot-hills of East Clare!
Ciaran & Teresa O’Connell are looking forward to welcoming other dairy farmers and new dairy entrants to the Open Day.
A dairy open day is being hosted by William and Annmarie Condon on their dairy farm at Rathmoyle, Lattin, Co. Tipperary on Tuesday 15th August, 2017 from 10.30am to 3.00pm.