Diversified, organic farm ahead of its time

Diversification is the key recommendation for the farming sector from the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Climate Change.

Some farms are already ready for this, by carrying a number of related and complementary enterprises.

One such farm is that of Cavan’s Jane Shackleton. The farm is on the shores of Lough Mullagh, on the Cavan-Meath border.

Shackleton has been farming just three years, but is the third generation of women farming the land here.

We’ve 70 hectares here on the lakeshore, with a suckler to beef system. There’s also a small flock of sheep, a large mixed forestry area and a tourism business including accommodation

“The main herd consists of 35 Angus, but we’ve now also got four belted Galloways. Angus are hardy anyway but my father had put a lot of land into forestry — that’s his main interest. Thinnings have been taken so there is land in there now that’s good to be grazed on by the Belties — they outwinter in the forestry. Now that the forestry payments are finished, that land is in organic conversion as well.

“Belted Galloways have a good kill out weight, they are the beefiest of the traditional breeds to bring in. They are especially hardy, and can thrive on very little. While not as placid as Angus, the flip side is that they are very low labour — they aren’t handled very often at all. They come in for the TB test, but otherwise they are out in the forest”

Galloway Cattle

She found the Galloway’s hardy reputation to be true: “They’ve been brilliant — this is my third year, the weather has been extreme since I started — with snow and drought — but it didn’t bother them. There was no loss of condition. We moved them into the worst grazing area — thinned forestry — and they thrived. While we didn’t bring them into there to clear up land, in reality they have tidied up the rough grazing in the old forestry really well.”

Shackleton intends to finish the Galloways.

“You can get a premium in conventional but it’s a higher rate if you just go organic anyway — or we may look to sell them privately,” she adds.

The main business is still Angus however: “We bring our 35 Angus sucklers to beef around 24 months. We don’t feed concentrates, its red clover winter finishing. So we try to keep inputs down, if we do buy in, it’s organic combicrop from Mark Gillanders in Monaghan.”

“We finish our animals at 18-24 months, heifers are about 280-290 kg deadweight. Steers are 320-330 kgs. Grading wise they score R or O minus — R is reasonable for Angus — we could keep them longer but would rather sell at that age to the processor.

“I’ll be focusing more on genetics and confirmation in the Angus from now on. There is a real focus — in the green cert and the farming press- on bigger animals. But it’s not always the best way. You don’t get 400 kg deadweight with Angus, but that’s not the only thing.”

Like most farmers who have organic sheep, the Cavan farm is too far from Camolin, the only place where organic sheep can be processed in a dedicated unit for a premium.

Navan is just ten minutes away so I don’t get an organic premium, but the sheep improve the pasture quality. I’ve no ragwort, and financially finishing in August September suits us better; it’s a good time of year compared to beef for us

They are also low cost, as sheep with cattle tend to have low vet bills: “I’ve no need to worm — they don’t get or need anything.”

In next week’s column, Jane Shackleton will tell us about the other aspects of the enterprise, and ecotourism in particular.

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