On May 15, Justina and Liam Gavin of Drumanilra farm, just outside Boyle, Co Roscommon, will become full symbol organic. I spoke with Liam about their set up.
Tell me about your background Liam: how did you end up farming organically in Roscommon?
We lived in the fishing village of Brixham in Devon for 11 years. My mother is originally from Roscommon, she was born on the farm we’re on now, as was her mother. My father was from Mayo. I’ve lived all over the place, Africa, the UK and Ireland. Justina is Australian.
We met at an NGO event in Africa, she was in Uganda, I was in Rwanda at the time.
I was working with different organisations, running a logistics company to supply NGOs like Trocaire, Goal and Oxfam etc.
We imported seeds, farm tools and refugee survival kits for distribution in the many refugee camps in the area, after the Rwandan massacres of 1994, Justina was volunteering as a teacher in Uganda, then we worked together in the logistics business.
A far cry from Roscommon.
True! I used to come here when I was a kid, my uncle didn’t have kids, I used to work on the farm, and I really loved it. My degree was in agriculture from UCD.
I veered away from agriculture directly, and more into agri business and marketing, running a self-catering holiday property agency called Blue Chip Holidays with Justina’s family, and also a chain of coffee shops in Dublin.
In 2004, when Justina was pregnant with our first child, my uncle told me he’d be leaving us the farm. We’d visited a lot, and realised then this is what we wanted. I wanted to come back here, where I’d spent so many summers. This is what I was connected to. We moved back in 2012.
So, Liam, tell me about the good life.
We’re in conversion to organic with 40 acres on the shores of Lough Key, specialising in rare and heritage breed pigs, cattle, sheep and poultry. We stock Dexters – a bull, 9 breeding females, 7 calves and one more to come, along with four calves from last year.
There’s Berkshire and Tamworth sows as well as about fifty Jacob and Shetland sheep. Where we are is not considered great land, historically there would be smaller breeds on this land, and the smaller native breeds suit this land.
The cattle I see around now are massive. Dexters are easier on the land, they don’t ruin it even when they are out all winter.
How was the farm when you arrived?
The farm was very overgrown. We’d to do extensive work cutting back hedges, clearing old field drains and putting in new ones. I did a chainsaw qualification, fenced and got the place under control.
We’ve cleared a lot with the pigs. So we’ve been ploughing each field with the pigs, harrowed with disc harrow, then the grass harrow then we planted seed. After that the fields were ready. We expect to do this every five to six years, rotating cattle, sheep and poultry.
How have you found adjusting to farming?
The UCD degree seems like ancient history now! I’m still learning, the neighbours are great, as are family and friends.
The older guys have given me great advice. I’ve learned a lot, it’s not been easy but I love the way of life.
Lambing and calving is tough, up at 4am for four to five weeks.
It’s the practical things, breech births and the like, that you have to learn how to manage. I had to look up how to artificially inseminate a pig on the internet.
An unusual one to Google.
* The Gavins have also opened their own shop to sell their meat in Boyle. More on that next week.
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