Maighréad Barron - Leasing a dairy farm at 24 years of age.

FBD Farmer of the Year - Land Mobility 2018 and 2020, Top 4 finalist FBD Macra NaFeirme Young Farmer of the Year, Maighréad  Barron is really ripping it up. The performance of her herd this year is a true credit to her perseverance, hard work and determination in just 3 short years.  Maighréad  runs us through how she came to going out on her own. her hopes for the future and top tips for pre and post cow husbandry.
Being reared on a dairy farm, I suppose you could say I’ve been farming my whole life. It wasn’t until 2018 I started farming on my own.  I took up a 15 year lease on a Dairy farm in Clonea Power, Co. Waterford.  I started out with 75 or so British Friesian cows. Over the past 3 years I’ve slowly added crossbred cows to the herd and purebred Jerseys. I breed all the cows to beef bulls via AI, Limousine and Herefords bulls the past 2 years, for the 2021 calving season I’m expecting 90% Angus calves and the remainder in Herefords. As the farm is only 100 acres, and need to utilise all the grass for milk, I decided the best system for me was to breed the cows to beef bulls, and sell them to calf to beef producers. This means I don’t have to delegate land to calf or replacement heifer rearing. I can just buy in high quality in calf heifers. The introduction of crossbreds and purchasing in calf heifers, had rejuvenated the overall herd. I finished the year 2020 with 466/kg/Ms, increasing from 192/Kg/Ms year end 2018. This is down to culling poorer performing Friesian cows and introducing the younger, easier managed cows.  
I studied Agricultural Science, specialising in dairy Business in UCD. Included in the Dairy Business course was a 6 month work placement, for this 13 of us headed off to the holy grail of dairy (after Ireland of course) New Zealand.
Before going to NZ I had thought I wanted to work with the Department of agriculture or Teagasc in some form, but after 6 months down and dirty, out in the elements, getting hands on experience I knew I had to have a physical role being active with the cows. I would not have managed an office job.
New Zealand was probably the first hands on experience I had dairy farming besides from doing weekend milking’s with my father, shur we all know when it’s your father roaring and screaming for you to get up and milk in the mornings it’s the last thing you want to do. New Zealand gave me the independence I needed to work for myself and be given the kick up the ass I needed to get up & go.
After graduating I worked for a year on a large scale dairy farm in Cork with 1000 Friesian cows. I spent a year here and felt I could learn as much as possible there. I moved onto a farm closer to home again a large scale Friesian farm, 500 cows, this for me was a resting spot, I was still looking for a managerial job or some sort or share milking possibility. 6months later my current farm came up for lease. I gave it a shot with all fingers crossed, met the farm owner, put in an offer and thankfully the risk paid off, the farm was mine if I wanted it.
Going into my fourth year farming and renting a farm independently, and beginning this journey at only 24 is probably the biggest accomplishment one could have.  Along the journey there has been lots of little personal accomplishments.  SCC and mastitis was a big problem for the first year and a half, a lot of work and time went into reducing and getting the spread within the herd under control.The herd started off at a SCC of around 300k now I’m averaging 91k.
Increasing the kilos of milk solids produced on the farm was also another big goal and accomplished, but there is always room for improvement so for year-end 2021 I'm hoping for 500 kg/Ms minimum!  There’s always lots of little accomplishments in farming to be celebrated!
 As it’s a leased farm avoiding as much upgrades in the farm as possible is A must. Of course you’ll have to do the essential fencing, water system maintenance and reseeding for the duration of your lease.
It’s important when looking to lease that you make sure the infrastructure is good to begin with, sheds road ways, slurry storage etc. the last thing you want to be doing is making upgrades to a place you don’t even own and will have to give back to the farm owner, lining his pockets and emptying your own is all your doing.
However with all my talk, I did put in a brand new 12unit DeLaval milking parlour. The existing parlour needed a MAJOR overhaul. Pit was widened, cow platform was widened also so the cows had enough room & were comfortable.  The parlour was brightened up leaving a lot more air flow though the parlour. A much more comfortable milking experience for man and beast. Pictures of the upgrade can be seen in my highlights on Instagram.
Despite the year 2020 being such a so and so… on farm it was a particularly good year for me. Everything went on the right direction for me. I only had a 5% empty rate down from 17% in 2018 and 9% in 2019 so I was extremely happy to only have 5 empty cows, 3 of which were my bought in first time calvers which was a little disappointing but thankfully they were sold onto a winter milk farmer who will hopefully get them in calf as autumn calvers.
I hope to maintain the 5% empty rate, hopefully less again this year. As I said already I’m very happy with how my solids are performing year on year. This year I’m aiming for the 500kg/Ms and produce 500,00 litres of milk. I would also like to increase the fat and protein produced. This will be achievable thanks to the incoming crossbred heifers, we are currently sitting at 4.42% fat and 3.7% protein, good but room for improvement.
Top tips/products used for milking at the start of the season?
Start of the season is an important time of the year on farms, if starting off right you’ll set yourself up for the year.
Having the cows in top condition at calving is important for post calving recovery and optimising milk yield. Regular health checks are a must in the days after calving, keep an eye on cows, how they are milking, eating, how they look and their breathing. Important to catch any issues early before they cause trouble.
A top tip I live by all year round is to strip the cows teats before every milking. It's time consuming but will pay off better in the long run, in preventing and identifying any mastitis cases in due time.
A good teat spray is one of the most valuable things a dairy farmer has at their fingertips.
If you are looking for more tips from Maighréad check out her Instagram page Here