Farming on the outskirts of New Ross, Lisa Doyle has settled in nicely to her new role as a dairy farm manager on a 287-cow dairy farm.
Hailing from a 140-cow dairy farm in Ramsgrange, dairy farm managing definitely wasn’t Lisa’s first port of call, or as she said: “It was never something I saw myself doing.”
Speaking to AgriLand when we paid her a visit on Tuesday, February 25, she said:
I always knew my brother was getting the home farm, so I never really thought about it.
“I think I actually needed to get away from it all, to realise that it was actually something I wanted to do,” she added.
After studying Animal Behaviour and Welfare in Harper Adams, Lisa travelled to Northern Ireland where she worked for four years in Dogs Trust.
“When I finished my studies in Harper Adams I didn’t really know what I wanted to do; I was doing bits and pieces of jobs before my friend told me about the job going in Dogs Trust.
I always knew I wanted to do something with cows, but I never really knew what I wanted to do.
It wasn’t until Lisa returned home from working in Dogs Trust, that she found herself looking for a career in the dairy industry again.
Whilst studying in Harper Adams, Lisa completed her placement in Embryonics where she completed an AI, scanning and hoot-pairing course. “These really stood to me,” she said.
“When I came back I was going to go AI’ing; so I was waiting for the AI season to start and I came here to fill the gap in the meantime – last January.
“At the time, I thought I was coming here to rear calves. Then, when they asked me to manage the place, I was a bit taken aback. I wondered was I going to be experienced enough for it,” she joked.
The farm itself consisting of 93ha – all in the one block – and is just one of many dairy partnerships, run under the banner of Captal Farms – which was co-founded by Pat Ryan.
Lisa commented: “All the farm managers – of the different dairy units – get together regularly for meetings, such as before calving or breeding. We also have a WhatsApp group which is like a little mini discussion group.
The WhatsApp group is quite a good support and it makes you feel like you’re not alone.
Along with Lisa, the farm has two more full-time employees. Lisa’s sister, Emily, is employed as a full-time calf rearer – until the end of March – and Jassi, another full-time employee, has stepped into the role as night calver for the spring.
Once calving is over, they will move back to just two full-time employees on the farm.
All the machinery work on the farm is contracted, including the baling, feeding and bedding. There are just 88 cubicles on the farm and the rest is straw-bedding – along with a 20-unit Fullwood parlour.
While it is a very busy now, Lisa stressed that when things are quiet she likes to take full advantage of it.
“Later on in the year – when the cows are beginning to cut back a bit – we will move to three milkings in two days; so we will milk at 6:00am in the morning, 6:00pm that evening and then 12:00pm the next day, and so on.
“I kind of went from feeling isolated here, to this, because you are just coming in and doing the jobs and then going home again,” she explained.
A total of 287 crossbred cows are due to calve down on the farm this year. Calving began on February 1 and – on the day of the visit – 50% of the herd have calved.
When asked how the calving season was going, she commented: “We had a little bit of bother at the start of the year with milk fever, but I think it was down to the silage.
“I rang the nutritionist up and he said to change the bales we were using and we did; we have been getting on fine since.”
The farm is a particularly dry farm, so fortunately the weather hasn’t put a complete stop to grazing for Lisa. However, Lisa added that grazing has been exceptionally “tricky” this year.
Despite the wet weather, the cows had been out grazing by day almost every day since calving began and over a few nights.
Along with grass, the cows are getting 4kg of concentrates/day through the parlour – and silage when needed.
Commenting on grazing, Lisa said: “I had them out last night and I will probably have them out again tonight and hopefully until Friday.
“The field is a bit of a mess after last night, but I do think it could have been a lot worse.
“I have had them out a few nights and most days – except for a few very bad days where you just couldn’t put them out.
“The land here is brilliant; so I do think I have a bit of an advantage over everyone else, but I have been trying to go to the driest paddocks.”
On the day we called out, Lisa had 19% of the farm grazed and she was hopeful that she would get 30% grazed by March 1.
“I had cows out grazing pretty late last year and there are a few paddocks with very low covers, so I’ll probably whip them out next to get through the area,” she explained.
There is a limited supply of calf-rearing facilities on the farm; so heifer calves go to a contract rearer at 10 days to two weeks-of-age old and bull calves are sold soon as they can go.
“We try to have heifers and bull calves going once a week; although if I am unhappy with a calf they won’t go. Only if they are fit to be transported,” she said.
The heifer calves go to a contract rearer in Co. Kildare and stay there until they are ready to calve down.
Once a cow calves the calf is taken away almost straightaway. The cow is then milked and the calf gets a minimum of 3L of colostrum – directly from its mother – and has its naval dipped.
The heifer calves then go straight onto Transformula milk powder and are fed 3L per feed. The bull calves are fed a litre of whole milk along with a litre of milk powder.
Touching on how the calves are going, Lisa said: “I am thrilled with how calves are going. They are going great.
I think under-stocking sheds does the trick. We try not to have a massive amount of calves in pens.
“I’m trying to stay away from the calves as much as possible too, so that there is a minimum amount of people around them. Emily is fully in charge of calves,” Lisa added.
Giving Opportunities To Young People
Making a final comment, Lisa said: “I think it is great the opportunities Pat Ryan is giving to young people. He had only met me for about 10 minutes and he asked me to be the manager here.
Especially for young people with no land, like me.
“They have asked me to go into a partnership with them here too, which is great. That will make work here even more worthwhile because you have your foot in the door.”