A low-input farming system is at the core of Pat McKenna’s 90-strong Dexter cattle suckler-beef enterprise at the foothills of Sliabh Beagh in Co. Monaghan.
This principle has been instrumental in establishing his thriving calf-to-beef operation, from which he sells premium Dexter beef directly to restaurants and local customers.
The way he grazes animals and the breed’s desirable characteristics – easy fed and being a smaller size making for smaller cuts – combine to create that is a superior, highly sought-after product.
The farm, spanning 60 acres of marginal land, participated in the Sliabh Beagh conservation grazing trial last year.
The trial aims to reduce fire risks on the mountain, which is also a hen harrier protected area.
The Dexter cattle breeder explained: “I am farming in sympathy with nature. I see it as the future of farming in a time when consumers are tuned into greener more traceable food products.”
“In a time of rapidly rising input costs, it is becoming apparent that lower inputs and more care for the soil can be profitable for primary producers.”
“Using cattle and a conservation grazing system on the mountain aims to improve the habitat by breaking down the pasture, loosening it and opening it up.”
“This means there is more life on the ground. This provides a better chance for the hen harrier and other ground-nesting birds. I do not use chemical fertiliser on the land. The only inputs are farmyard manure, slurry, and dry bedding.”
The Monaghan man’s farm is in a curlew protected area; as such, he does not cut any grass until July/August.
There is a traditional hay meadow on the farm of about 7-acres. Furthermore, there were 12-acres of broadleaf forestry which he planted eight years ago. This provides a habitat for many birds and creatures.
Farming for Nature
The Monaghan farmer has joined the Farming for Nature (FFN) project’s growing ambassador network.
He is part of this year’s 23 ambassadors that come from across Ireland. These include beef, sheep, forestry, dairy, horticulture, and tillage farmers who manage a “wide range of very valuable” habitats.
These include species-rich grasslands and heaths, wetlands, woodlands, and hedgerows.
Further reading on That’s Farming: