Agri-Food Series: Pastures New with Daniel Cronin of Oysterhaven Dairy Farm

Daniel-Cronin

In the latest in our Agri-Food series, Farmer Daniel Cronin of Oysterhaven Dairy Farm reveals how he diversified the family farm business.


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Daniel Cronin and his father, Robert, are joint owners of Oysterhaven Dairy Farm in County Cork. The Cronins were primarily tillage farmers before converting to dairy in February 2017. They now have 204 spring calving dairy cows and have plans to organically grow that number to 300 in the next five years.

We talked to Daniel about how dairy farming has helped his bottom line as well as bringing the family and neighbouring farming community closer together.

Why did you decide to convert your farm to dairy farming?

“Oysterhaven is a family farm, owned by my great-grandmother and great-uncle, who then passed it to my dad, Robert. I used to help out as a kid and have worked here all my life, apart from a few years when I was employed as a lorry driver. I’m now joint partner with Dad.

“We were farming 280 acres of land for tillage and 60 acres for suckler cows, but we concluded around 2015 that there really wasn’t a strong enough economic future in either sector.

“We decided dairy farming had much more long-term potential because the ending of the milk quotas seemed to have levelled the playing field in the industry. We felt we could grow grass well, look after a quality herd of cows and, given that we already had a working relationship with Dairygold Co-op, had a customer who was keen to take our product.

“We started dairy farming in February 2017 and it’s gone very well. We milked 150 heifers in the first year, 204 this year and are aiming for 240 next year. We’ve got crossbred Jersey-cross cows, which are very healthy animals and highly fertile. The yields have been very strong, with 407 kilos of milk solids delivered.”

Recommended reading: Seminar - The UK-Ireland Agri-Food Sector: A Shared History, A Shared Future

What has been the most rewarding aspect of this conversion to dairy farming?

“We had no history in dairy farming whatsoever, so we can feel very proud of our strong performance to date. It’s only me, my dad and one other worker, so we’ve had to put in a lot of effort.

“Enjoying the lovely nature of the Jersey-cross and seeing how well they’ve performed has been incredibly rewarding.

“The transformation of the farm has also been great to see. We’ve invested in the infrastructure with a new milking parlour and better roadways around the farm and we believe it looks so much more picturesque now than it did before. We have beautiful growing grass compared with the stubbled tillage fields of the past.”

What lessons have you learned along the way?

“I would have started planning the conversion much earlier. We started our planning about 12 months out, but I believe you need a year and a half or even two years to ensure you’re fully ready. You need to get your business plan and structure fully outlined, get planning permission and obtain the finance that you need to go forward. This all takes longer than you think.

“When we began milking in February, our milking parlour and stalls weren’t ready in time. We were only able to milk our cows in half the parlour, which caused stress for us as well as our animals. With a bit more planning we would have avoided that.”

What advice would you give someone considering entry into dairy farming?

“Be fully committed to the move in terms of planning and understanding what the sector requires of you before and during the conversion. Get as much information and help as you can, including from other dairy farmers. You also need to have strong, positive support from your family and friends to keep you going.

“You will make mistakes because everything will be new to you, but you need to realise that you won’t get things right straight away. If you do make a mistake, learn from it and make sure you do it correctly second time round.

“The transformation of the farm has been great to see. We believe it looks so much more picturesque now than it did before. We have beautiful growing grass compared with the stubbled tillage fields of the past”

Daniel Cronin, co-owner Oysterhaven Dairy Farm

“When we started, one mistake I made was not teat-sealing our heifers before calving, which led to mastitis issues and added to labour and cost. But with experience you learn to make the necessary changes and develop the skills you need.”

How have you dealt with the very challenging spring, which affected all farmers this year?

“The spring weather created an additional workload in every area on the farm. That included clearing and maintaining passages into and out of the fields and rebuilding fences. My two brothers, Kevin, an accountant, and Rob, who works a pharmaceutical company, even took time off from their jobs and gave up their whole weekends to help with the milking.

“The feeding process was obviously made harder by the wet weather but we had stacks of bales in reserve for emergency periods and so we had a good contingency plan in place.”

Where do you see yourself and the farm in five years’ time?

“We hope to be a very settled dairy farm by 2023, milking 300 cows, which is the maximum number we could accommodate here. The infrastructure of the farm will hopefully be developed further – we’ll have more automation in the parlour, including feeding drafting units for our cows. We believe the demand for our milk will remain strong and bring in enough income so I may be able to take more time off to see my family.”

Farmers are good at sharing learning with each other at events and on discussion groups. Where do you get your farming knowledge from?

“Back in 2015 when having dairy cows was only an idea, I started going along to Teagasc dairy farm discussion groups. I wanted to find out more about the sector and talk to farmers before making the decision about whether or not to go ahead.

“I still go to the discussion group once a month as well as events Teagasc hosts related to the sector. You learn so much from fellow farmers. The advice and information we’ve gained on grassland management, animal nutrition and feeding has been invaluable. You see and hear how other farmers are growing grass and what they’re feeding their cows compared with you.

“You pick up so many tips, and there’s a really positive and supportive feel to the group. If you have an issue, you can just ring up one of your fellow dairy farmers and find a solution.

“Back in the spring, we had a cow in the field that had become unwell. She was cold, jittery and jumpy, and I had never seen these symptoms before. I called a fellow farmer and they identified it quickly as a condition called grass tetany, which can be cured with a bottle of magnesium. We tried it and, of course, it worked.

“So, it’s not just me who would highly recommend the work of the discussion groups.”

 

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