Future Farmer Tom Murphy discusses cows, financing and his switch to dairying
New entrant, Tom Murphy, grew up on a mixed farm in Inistioge in Kilkenny where the year was traditionally spent moving from sucklers to sheep to tillage.
When the now 32 year-old left SETU, then WIT, he felt dairy was his future. To help him decide, he spent 10 months working on a well-managed dairy farm in Cumbria, got a feel for managing cows and grassland. Tom instinctively knew dairying was the career he wanted to follow.
Today, they milk 202 cows, their overall stocking rate is 2.21 LU/HA and the EBI of the herd is €209.
“My father always had sheep on the farm and my mother came from a dairy farm. I studied at WIT and got a feeling that my number one option, if I wanted to farm full-time, would have to be dairying. Other than that, I would have had to source another form of income as what we were doing up to then would not have been able to generate two incomes.
“I left for Cumbria after graduating, came home when they were drying off and went back for calving. I absolutely loved every aspect of it. When I came home to the family farm, we put together a plan to get into dairying.”
Future Farmer Profile
Tom is farming with his father and mother, Chrissie and James, in Inistioge in Kilkenny. They farm 118 Ha, 107 Ha of which is now in grassland. The family farm formerly included sucklers, sheep and tillage but all that began to change when Tom became a new entrant to milk in 2018.
His passion for dairy, cross-breeds and grass management was honed on a well-managed dairy farm in Cumbria in the UK after he finished college. They started out with 98 cows in 2018, strategically building the herd size to 124, 154, 165, 192 and now 202 cows today. Tom has invested heavily in the farm over the years, adding a parlour with space for 30 units; a 16,000 litre bulk tank; cubicles for 150 calves and 250 cows and a lagoon with a one million gallon slurry capacity.
The overall stocking rate is 2.21 LU/HA and the EBI of the herd is €209.
Financing was relatively straightforward, Tom says. “We put together a five-year business plan through Teagasc, showing where we were and where we planned to be by year 5. We knew it was going to be a large investment as it was a greenfield site so we planned strategically to keep our initial costs down, while still leaving space for the future.
“I knew in 2018 when we were finished building that the yard, while brand new, would look different 10 years down the road. So to keep our costs down, we started with 14 units, a one year loan of a bulk tank, and 100 topless cubicles with concrete poured for another 50.
“We built a silage pit in year 3, and 10 more units in year 4 with 50 more cubicles and pillars for the shed in year 5. When we approached the banks, it became apparent very quickly which ones wanted business and which ones didn’t.
“Our 5 year plan stood up to any scrutiny they were looking for and when they sat at the table they could see the clear plan ahead of us,” he added that they discussed financing with a number of financial institutions to ensure they received the best deal.
A better life
The Murphys got planning permission in 2017, started out in 2018. “I absolutely love every aspect of it. It’s a way better life than mixed farming where you’re on the go all of the time.
“We’re calving down 202 at the moment, 90% of which are cross bred. We built the herd slowly and strategically from 98 cows in 2019, scaling back on our other interests and investing in the necessary farming infrastructure as we grew our numbers.
“We didn’t rush things. We balanced everything out. We were starting into dairy from scratch and were conscious that things could go wrong. It was all a learning curve. But we have absolutely no regrets. We don’t know ourselves.
“We’ve invested in the infrastructure needed to manage the herd we’ve built. We built a Dairymaster parlour with space for 30 units starting out. We’re up to 24 now. We have a 16,000 litre bulk tank, automatic clusters, feeders and washers
“Last year we put collars on the cows and have space in our cubicles for up to 250 cows. The pillars are up for another shed at some point in the future. Slurry management is critical and we developed a one million gallon lagoon so we’ve capacity for 16 plus weeks and we’re never under pressure.
Listen to others
“My tip for anyone starting off as a new entrant would be to listen to everyone. And you’ll get as much useful information off a farmer who has made mistakes along the line as you will get from someone who has sailed through. It will all stand to you in time.”
A life outside of farming
Bar spreading fertiliser in the summer and doing a small bit of mowing and odd-jobs on the farm, everything else is contracted out, Tom revealed. “We now spend two hours milking in the morning, about an hour and a half in the evening. Contracting out the other jobs means we have less machinery, need less labour and we can focus on doing the important things right while also having a life outside of farming.”
The 32 year-old, who still plays hurling with the local club, said he jumped at the opportunity to join the Future Farm Programme, a Teagasc/Tirlán knowledge transfer programme. It harnesses advancements in technology and farm practices to support farmers to make the necessary changes for a profitable and sustainable future.
“It will keep me motivated and will keep my mind on the straight and narrow. I was up on the late Cathal Moran’s farm. He was previously a Future Farmer. I’d see him in the Famers Journal and followed him on social media. I really looked up to him so joining the Programme was an absolute no brainer.
“We’ve done lots on the farm and I’ve learnt lots. But I can always learn more. All the family who’ve farmed here have been particularly mindful of the stream that starts at the top of our hill and comes straight down through our farm. Every decision we make is based on protecting that. It is a fabulous natural feature on the farm and we’ve filtered part of it into tanks for the cows. Any further advice I can get on protecting that will help us.”
Tom’s mother, Chrissie, plays a huge role in the farm and assists with milking, while his father, James, who is renowned in IFA circles, still farms and cares for 120 ewes on 45 acres specifically dedicated to the flock.
First Published 9 February 2024