2019 saw Limerick’s Fiachra Liston earn the award in Excellence in Farm Safety at the annual Zurich Farm Insurance Farmer of the Year Awards. Irish Tractor & Agri caught up with the man himself to learn all about the success and his family’s farm in Banogue.
“Farm safety has to be priority” – that’s the way Limerick farmer Fiachra Liston saw it from ‘Day 1’ and now – many years later – he finds himself on the receiving end of a national award after having practiced what he preached.
His family have been increasing the dairy herd size on the farm in Banogue, Co. Limerick in recent years to the point where he and his father Aidan are currently milking around 300 Holstein Friesian.
After a stint away, Fiachra returned to the family farm in 2004 and is focused on improving breeding to have the most profitable animal for their grass-based system ever since.
He’s also been focused on growing more tons of grass per hectare and attaining the correct work-life balance, which is something many farmers struggle to achieve.
Married to Mary (nee Barrett) with four young children, Caitlin, Edward, Aidan and Matthew who are all under the age of eight, Fiachra studied both agriculture and engineering at Reaseheath College, Nantwich near Crewe before travelling to New Zealand and the US to develop his farm skills.
While in the US, he worked on a farm in Arizona which milked 4,500 cows and spent a further six months working on the grain harvest from Texas to North Dakota.
He has completed a number of courses over the years, including a DIY AI course, a First Aid course with the Farm Relief Service (FRS), as well as farm profit monitor and cost control planner courses with Teagasc.
Fiachra was previously nominated for the Marca na Feirme / FBD Young Farmer of the Year award in 2008 and 2010, getting down to the last six in the latter year when three of the other finalists were also dairy farmers.
One of a family of seven, the Limerick native is a former chairman of Kilmallock Marca and has also served as county Chairman and President.
“At present I am Chairman of Greybridge Classic Club where we fundraise for local charities which to- date we have raised €160,000,” he explained.
Just last year, Fiachra picked up the award for Excellence in Farm Safety at the annual Zurich Farm Insurance Farmer of the Year Awards.
Speaking on the success, he told Irish Tractor & Agri: “It is nice to have that recognition and while people don’t see it as overly important, farm safety is always priority.
“When you see some people lifting gates, you know it shouldn’t be happening that way. Back years ago, a gate fell on my brother when he was eight years of age and ever since that we’ve been stringent on safety.
“You learn from it and move on from it. Make sure your machines are serviced, they have to be looked after and farm safety has to be the priority.”
He added: “You feel safe on a farm when you know you can walk your children on it.”
Those words ring true and when you’re farming on roughly 350 acres, it’s a lot of ground to cover.
The Liston’s are busy all year round, supplying their milk to Kerry Agri-business who, in conjunction with Teagasc, have organised open days on this exceptionally well-run farm in the past.
The family operates a very simple system that is founded on the principles of top-class facilities, excellent herd health and a meticulous attention to detail.
All of the facilities on the farm are developed with the aim of one man being able to handle 300 cows. Good cow health and genetics are key to keeping the system simple and minimising work.
The six-week calving rate is about 85 per cent, with the majority of the calves being born in February. The heifer calves are kept as replacements, while the bulls are sold to the mart at three weeks old.
The breeding and condition scoring of the cows are other key factors in ensuring a healthy herd and getting them in calf.
The cows remain outdoors for nine months of the year. They are fed silage for the other three months.
The Listons call on the services of local agri-contractors for their silage cutting, slurry spreading, baling and reseeding needs.
Any structural improvements or new builds on the farm are also left to the professionals, allowing them to concentrate solely on looking after their dairy herd.
And the herd keeps on growing steadily out around Ballyculleen, as Fiachra explained:
“We have been able to grow by investing gradually and being as efficient as possible. Having the right stock and keeping the cows on grass for as long as possible each year have been central to our herd growth.
“We use the maximum amount of grass and the minimum amount of feed. We reseed as often as we can and having slats and cubicles in our sheds enable us to keep infrastructure maintenance costs to a minimum,” he concluded on a positive note.
The Liston family
Telephone: 087 122 6408
First published in Irish Tractor & Agri magazine Vol 8 No 1, February/March 2020