Meet Patrick O’Brien
From Dundrum, County Tipperary, Patrick O’Brien is one of Glenisk’s organic farmers. Patrick manages a herd of over 70 milking cows on more than 150 acres of organic farmland in Tipperary, where his love of farming was established at an early age. Patrick comes from a farming family, growing up in Tipperary surrounded by his parents’ dairy herd (and the odd trio of hens and family dogs). Patrick’s parents and cousin are also involved in farming. As a kid, Patrick’s favourite part of farm life was seeing the new calves after they were born and all the excitement of what the new additions to the herd would be like. As an adult, Patrick began farming his own beef enterprise but transitioned back to dairy after completing a course in dairy management at Reaseheath College in England. He says dairy farming is always interesting and he enjoys it more. Nowadays, Patrick (also a qualified teacher) is busy running his organic dairy farm, teaching, and studying. Patrick is very thankful to his parents for their help in developing his farming enterprise, and is honoured to be carrying on the tradition.
“Nature is a key part of my life and why I’m interested in organics.”
Patrick converted his farmland to organic production about four years ago, amid concerns about the impact that artificial fertilizers and sprays were having on his land and his animals. By eliminating these artificial inputs, Patrick has reduced pollution and improved the health of his soil, herd, and the surrounding environment. Patrick believes that organic is a more sustainable way of farming, and making the switch helped him reduce the chemicals and pollution on his family land. Animal health is his biggest priority, and as an organic farmer, Patrick must “focus on prevention and the animal itself.” Patrick has chosen specific breeds that are well suited to his type of farming and finds that animal health is better because he focuses on specific breeds for health, including crossed Friesian, Jersey, Shorthorn, and Brown Swiss cows. Patrick has also seen a difference in his cows’ choice of feed. Because the ditches and hedges around his land aren’t sprayed with chemicals, Patrick finds that his cows like to eat different plants as they move from pasture to pasture, seeking out a variety of natural vitamins and minerals.
“Every day you learn”
In organic farming, says Patrick, the main key to being successful is thinking ahead. Because there are no synthetic chemicals allowed in organic farming, soil management and grassland planning become paramount. Patrick says he always has a backup plan, and that he has learned a lot since converting to organics. In fact, he is part of a discussion group with other farmers to share best practice and he enjoys learning from other farmers in the area. When asked what his favourite part of farming is, Patrick says it’s still the same moments he loved as a kid – meeting the calves. For Patrick the excitement of seeing what the new calves will be like is only matched by the glee of his nieces and nephews who visit the farm to meet the new-borns.