Tips for retiring from dairying – one farmer’s experience

A transition to active retirement from dairy farming, avoiding the risk of isolation, is the recommendation of one Irish farmer.

Anthony Betts had a successful 47-year career farming in County Waterford with his wife, Margaret, and family.

For 39 of those years, he ran the unit single-handedly and says he enjoyed working on his own.

See also: How satellite biomass mapping tech could optimise grazing

However, concerns about isolation in older age prompted him to think carefully about how he could best prepare for life after farming (none of his three children wanted to farm).

Two years after retiring, he says he is only now beginning to enjoy it and not feel guilty.

Farmer addressing an audience

Anthony Betts © MAG/Judith Tooth


First, Anthony thought about retirement for 18 months to make sure it was what he really wanted to do. This acclimatised his mind towards that decision.

“Sometimes it was uncomfortable, but the answer was still the same. I was getting tired, starting to make mistakes or forget things like safety latches,” he says.

“I became conscious of the fact that the circumstances were not great, that if I persevered, the outcome was not good. So, it was an intelligent decision.”


He then made a list of all the different people connected to his business – about 30, all of whom he enjoyed working with (see “Day-to-day connections: Anthony Betts’s list of people he worked with as a dairy farmer”).

He called them “the scaffolding around my business”.

Day-to-day connections: Anthony Betts’s list of people he worked with as a dairy farmer

Vet Puncture repair Milking machine service
Hoofcare Teagasc Electrician
Relief milker Independent agricultural adviser Plumber
Contractor Farm walks Pedigree Breeders Association
Co-op Discussion groups Artificial insemination companies
Machinery sales and service Open days Positive Farmers Conference
Independent suppliers Irish Grassland Association Farm/machinery insurance
Hardware store Farm organisations Helping neighbours
Fencing supplies Ploughing championships Community involvement
Fuel supplier Mart Accountants

“There was the feeling that when I was there [on the farm] and those contacts were no longer there in my life, I could become isolated,” he says.

“And the longer you isolate yourself, the harder it is to come out of that.

“I decided I had to continue going to meetings and conferences. They would serve me well and keep me stimulated.”

Meaning and purpose

Having lived with the daily and seasonal structure of milking cows, the change was difficult, he says.

Then came an opportunity to do grassland measurement for other farmers, and Anthony used this as his transition to retirement.

“The job changes with the seasons and the weather, and gives me pleasure. It gives me meaning and purpose.

“Others might switch to rearing replacement heifers or run a beef enterprise as an interim measure.”

Anthony recommends having interests outside the farm, such as singing in a choir or hill walking.

For those living alone, he suggests having a dog or other pet, requiring care and countering the dangers of isolation.

This applies to those who are still farming too: “My advice to younger farmers would be to have another identity outside the farm.

“If you’re totally at home and solitary and you have issues of, say, a TB breakdown, playing five-a-side football wouldn’t cure it, but it gives the mind a rest.

“Otherwise, you’re like a dog chasing its tail round and round.”

Health awareness

He also stresses the importance of making a will and committing to maintaining your health in retirement: “I’m in really good order and want to keep it that way.

“I started going to the gym to keep my balance and framework below the hips to reduce the risk of falling. One in five serious fractures ends in death each year.”

The family has rented the farm out for five years.

Anthony Betts was a speaker at the recent Positive Farmers conference held in Cork