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Dairy Farming: Can You Milk It?

Dairy Farming: Can You Milk It?

A 2018 Teagasc survey revealed that Dairy is the most profitable agricultural activity in the state with average incomes hitting a record €86,115 in 2017 on foot of a strong upturn in dairy prices globally.

A 2017 survey conducted by the National Farm Research Unit revealed that 53% of the 265 dairy farmers interviewed, said that they would recommend dairy farming to the next generation.

A profitable farming career that comes with a positive recommendation!

Read on to find out more about the dairy industry in Ireland.


Overview of the Dairy Industry

The Dairy Industry is a key player in the Irish economy providing much needed employment across rural Ireland. Approximately 7 billion litres of milk is processed per annum across the 18,000 family farms nationwide.

The abolition of EU milk quotas in 2015 has led to Ireland becoming a global leader in the development of high value environmentally sustainable dairy produce.

Irish dairy is exported to over 155 markets worldwide with international markets beyond the EU becoming increasingly important. Most of Ireland’s dairy produce is exported in the form of protein powders and infant formula to fast-growing Asian markets such as China or as butter and cheese to Europe and the US.

Irish primary dairies continue to be 100% Irish owned entities. The fact that three of the world’s leading nutritional companies, Abbott, Danone and Wyeth, have chosen to locate processing sites here is testament to the quality of our produce.


6 Interesting Facts about Dairy Farming in Ireland

  1. There are approx. 18,500 Dairy farmers
  2. Average herd size approx. 80 cows
  3. Average production: 370,000 litres
  4. Yield per cow : 5,000 litres 
  5. National dairy herd : 1.4 million cows 
  6. National milk production: 6.65 billion litres (2016)


Threats to the Industry

A hard Brexit could have a devastating impact on dairy farmers. The UK is one of our biggest customers and we are heavily dependent on the UK market. Efforts have been made to mitigate this by diversifying and entering into new markets further afield. China and Mexico have become important markets for Irish dairy produce.

Farms are vulnerable to the ever changing weather. Harsh winters and dry summers pose all sorts of challenges; damaged soil quality and reduced grass growth can result in farmers needing to pay for expensive fodder for their livestock.

Additionally, the volatility of milk prices is an uncertainty for farmers and can lead to variation in farming profits from year to year.

Although not a threat to the industry, the dangers of farming should be a consideration for those interested in entering the industry. Twenty-four people died last year (2017), making farming the most dangerous occupation in the state. A further 2,500 were injured, many seriously. Increased mechanisation, part-time farming, pressure of work and an ageing population contribute to these awful statistics. 


A Career in Dairy Farming

Teagasc expects that by 2025, approximately 6,000 people will be needed to enter the industry as both employees on larger scale dairy farms and to succeed farmers who plan on retiring.

There are exciting opportunities in the sector and with the increased uptake of collaborative farming – you don’t need to own a farm, or even be from a farm to have a successful career in dairying. All you need is the right attitude and an interest in learning the skills that will allow you to succeed.

To be a farm worker, you should have:

  • the ability to do hard physical work
  • practical skills and technical knowledge
  • awareness of health and safety
  • communication skills and the ability to follow instructions
  • reliability, responsibility and motivation
  • a willingness to work flexibly.

Entry Routes

There is no formal educational requirement for becoming a dairy farmer. Some people come from a farming background and it's a natural path for them get into farming after leaving school; some enrol in agricultural or livestock-related courses, others may take related courses in biology or chemistry, or even opt for business training.

The most important preparation for becoming a dairy farmer is to gain work experience on a dairy farm, perhaps becoming a dairy farm assistant.

A person who wants to become a dairy farmer should spend at least some time working on a dairy farm before striking out on their own. This provides the opportunity to test whether you like dairy farming enough to make it a full-time career. Many dairy farmers grow up on farms and are used to this type of work. For those who are not born into farm life, this type of experience can be critical.

Education can help any prospective dairy farmer to learn about running a farm, caring for livestock, and achieving production goals.

Unless you inherit a dairy farm, a good deal of money will be required to get started in this business - land, cows, equipment, shelter, start-up supplies. It may require substantial loans to get started. An alternative approach is to rent an existing dairy farm and start out with a minimal purchase of cows.

For more information on starting out in dairy farming check out Teagasc publication, Stepping Stones to a Career in Dairy Farming





The CareersPortal Team

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