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‘As a practicing solicitor attending court daily, I needed something outside work’ – Highland cattle breeder

In this week’s Farmer Focus series, That’s Farming speaks to John Cashell, owner of Amharc Farm in Co. Kerry. The Highland cattle farmer discuss diversifying the farm, building his herd, and juggling life as a practicing solicitor with farm life.  

The Covid-19 pandemic initiated John Cashell’s farming venture with a fold of Highland Cattle.

John, a qualified and practicing solicitor, farms alongside his wife, Maura, a teacher, in the Stacks Mountains based in Co. Kerry.

Despite their busy careers, John decided to take up farming as a hobby, and while there had been generations of farmers on his current holding, his father was not a farmer.

John undertook significant improvement works to make his land base more suitable for livestock.

Highland cattle farmer

The new holding comprises Highland cattle, with a total of four pedigree Scottish Highland cows and three calves.

Researching the market, and forging connections with experienced Highland breeders, inspired the owners of Amharc Farm to import Highland cattle to lay the foundations for their fold.

“We imported two from England and two from Scotland in October 2021. We had the help of the renowned Highland cattle breeder, Michelle Shaughnessy, who has appeared on That’s Farming numerous times,” he tells That’s Farming.

“Michelle was key in sourcing a strong bloodline for us and guided us on importing the cows. We have now registered the fold with the Highland Cattle Society.”

“As farming is a relatively new venture, I began initially with dry stock farming. However, I was keen to invest in pedigree breeds, and that is when I came across Michelle and the unique breed of Scottish Highlands.”

John plans to diversify the farming enterprise by introducing a variety of other animal breeds to the holding.

“In addition to this, I ventured into pedigree Friesian horses, which we sourced in the Netherlands. Our most recent additions are four Alpacas, which we hope to breed in the near future.”

Building the Highland fold

Initially, John spotted Highland cattle at a local pet farm, and he was impressed by their distinctive long horns and wavy coats.

“Following this, I proceeded to carry out some research on the breed, and I felt they would be an enjoyable addition to the farm.”

As the herd is relatively new, with the foundation stock just settling in, John hopes to invest in a pedigree bull to continue building numbers and exhibit cattle at agricultural shows in the future.

“As we are in the infancy stage at the moment regarding breeding, we intend to dedicate much time to breeding in the future. We are currently in the process of sourcing our first bull for the herd.”

“In the future, we plan to calve in late spring when hopefully the weather improves, and it is more suitable to calving Highland cows.”

In terms of young stock, John plans to sell both bull calves and retain one heifer calf.

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Setting targets

Like many farmers, grassland management is an important practice that the duo have embraced in their enterprise. While this is a relatively new venture, John has quickly learned the importance of managing grass availability versus demand.

“We turn cattle out early in the year to make the most of a long grazing season. We have a planned autumn closing date for the paddocks.”

“I prefer not to re-graze closed paddocks until there is sufficient regrowth. We apply fertiliser and lime as required and are currently considering reseeding poor-performing paddocks.”

The main aim of the fold is to produce one calf, per cow, per year, for the future. This has been strongly implemented in John’s plans for the Highland suckler herd.

John believes that some of the key elements of running a successful Highland suckler operation include late spring-calving, a dependable veterinary surgeon and turning out calves to grass as early as possible.

He claims the high-quality grass will maintain a suckler cow with a calf at foot.

“In my opinion, I feel that farmers are moving away from the traditional suckler breeds and are beginning to explore other unique breeds.”

“It is evident that farmers are trying to concentrate more on quality of stock, rather than quantity.”

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Outlet outside of work 

John recommends having an outlet outside of work, where in the case of having off-farm employment, you can walk the farm and tend to tasks that you need to complete.

“As a practicing solicitor attending court daily, I felt I needed something outside work and files.”

“I am grateful to have found my keen interest in farming and pedigree livestock. It is not often you get practicing solicitors interested in farming; however, I have good farm hands who help out daily.”

John concludes, “what a great life it is that allows great family time. We all get involved in farming during the weekends, which is probably the greatest reward for me”.

John and Maura document their farming journey on their Instagram account, which you can find under the @herdlifekerry handle.

To share your story like this Highland cattle farmer, please email [email protected]

View other Farmer Focus profiles.

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