ON the fringe of Kilbrittain village a 225-acre dairy farm is the very heartbeat of daily life for Barry O’Mahony, who was runner-up last week in the NDC and Kerrygold national quality milk awards.
His success is little wonder, given that he embraces his chosen path with a passion that gives the impression he knows each and every one of his 250 milking cows.
Barry knows too that farming is not for everyone: ‘It is something that you have to like to be involved in and if you are not extremely passionate about it, it’s not going to be easy. When you are, getting up early in the morning and getting out in the rain or the lovely sunrises it doesn’t really matter.
‘It’s getting up and meeting all the cows and seeing that they are all in good shape and ready to live another productive day for you. You relish everyday of the job.’
As a child, Barry was always out on the farm and, as he grew up, was very interested in the running of the farm and looking after the animals. The subsequent progression to being more involved in the running of the business of the farm was seamless.
Barry’s description of the farm is somewhat similar. ‘It’s a fifth generation farm and its something that I am very proud of that there is that kind of history behind me. On my mother’s (Siobhan) side there are also generations of farms involved.
‘This farm comprises 250 milking cows and all associated young stock. In total we have about 370 cattle and farming about 225 acres – full dairy farm.’
Outlining the background, he added, ‘In dad’s (Denis) youth this would have been a mixed farm and in his father’s time it was a very well operated mixed farm – with tillage, beef, pigs, sheep, cows and everything. Dad then turned it into a dairy farm – and a good one at that – and it’s grown from there to where it is at the moment.
‘All pedigree registered Holstein Friesian cows, we rear all our own replacements and we rear a lot of replacements to sell as well and we take great pride in the breeding of those animals.’
With a positive view on the abolition of the quota Barry remarked: ‘We had a lot of different plans to expand before, during and after the abolition of the quota. The abolition of the quota was something that we had been waiting for a long time.
‘We are lucky to have a good land base and room to expand in terms of land. Since 2005, our expansion curve has trebled. It is hard to see where to go from here, we are at a bit of a crossroads with quotas going. Facilities and land bases are there but there are other things to look at such as labour and so on.’
Embracing progress, he added: ‘We have automated the system as best we can because labour is something that is so expensive and that expense is hard to commit to with fluctuating milk prices.
‘We get some labour part time, which we are delighted with and we are blessed with some great lads around us to help us and we also have a great contractor that does a lot of work for us. We buy in a lot of our feeds so all we are doing here is really the milking side of things, all our young stock is raised and my uncle Padraig is a great help in rearing those as well.’
The use of various farm advisory services sits easily with Barry, who values their assistance. ‘We are very lucky that we have a great nutritionist, who helps us a lot through the seasons. We also use Teagasc and we have other people on board to help with the paperwork as well.”
While some farmers find paperwork a necessary evil or even a chore, Barry has a pragmatic view. ‘You don’t have a choice these days really. It’s definitely a side of the business that has changed a lot over the last ten to fifteen years. You have to embrace it.’
He backs up his opinion with some examples: ‘All our calf registration is done online. All issues to do with the herd register, animal anti-biotics going on-line now as well, it’s where it’s at and it is great for us to keep records. We also use the ICBF quite a lot as well and what they give us back is fantastic – great help in terms of expansion.’
The future of the family farm is one sector that he reckons that Ireland is excelling and it comes as no surprise to hear that he derives huge satisfaction form farming. ‘Loads of it, no matter what the job is. It’s amazing when you are young there are some jobs on the farm that you detest and you grow up wondering how can I come into farming and not to have to do those jobs, but as time goes on you begin to relish some of those jobs, definitely, very satisfying.’
Analysis of the job satisfaction theme pans out to being at one with nature and being able to produce a good product that is so important in the food chain. ‘It’s getting up in the morning, going out, getting the cows. Some mornings you watch the sunrise and other mornings you get drowned with the rain, but thankfully lately there are some great sunrises to be admiring.’
The negatives are few: ‘Market place fluctuation isn’t easy to deal with, luckily here in West Cork we are blessed to have such a good processor as Carbery and that is really cushioning for us.’
Life outside farming is also easily explained by Barry: “I’m married to Jane, we have a son Isaac and another baby on the way shortly and that is where my life outside of farming is at the moment. We enjoy socialising locally and we have good towns around us like Clonakilty, Kinsale and Bandon.
‘I watch sport but I’m not involved at local level. I like watching rugby – but a lot of the games (World Cup) clashed with milking time.’
There are always more important things in life – such as farming.