Joe Kelly has had a colourful agricultural career, having intensively farmed pigs for over 25 years and later sheep before converting to organics with a suckler herd and horticultural enterprise.
It was his final decade in pig production, between 1998 and 2008, that reinforced his desire to become an organic producer.
“My instinct is probably fairly greenish in that I was interested in the planet,” he explained during Teagasc Mayo’s organic farming webinar.”
“I want to leave it as I found it. I thought intensively farming pigs apart from the fact that everything was getting bigger, including numbers, it was very against what I believed in, and it was very hard to get out of because of debt and being committed to buildings.”
“So, I finally decided to get out of pigs in 2008 and went into organics in 2009.”
“I wanted to increase the microbiology in the soils on my farm, which was given to me by my father, and I thought, let us leave the land in better condition than I found it.”
Now, he farms just under 20 continental suckler cows with Shorthorn, Belgian Blue, Limousin, and Simmental influence.
He previously ran a Belgian Blue stock bull and has found that a Belgian Blue-cross-Shorthorn cow is best-suited type to his system, because of “shape and colour”.
With some hesitation, he moved away from a continental stock bull, after thirty years, to an Aberdeen Angus and has reduced suckler cow numbers.
“It became apparent to me that when you have good continental cows and put a good Aberdeen Angus bull up on them, it will not turn into a tri-colour calf straight away because you have continental breeding on the mother’s side.”
“I bought a good, long Angus bull which produced shapey weanlings, which are ready to slaughter earlier, at 24-26 months. Because organic feed is dearer than conventional feed, you try to feed as much off grass as possible.”
“Before I wean calves, I put them on feed and keep feeding them on and sell my cattle as weanlings in late winter to early spring.”
“The last two years, I have been buying organic feed through Aurivo, and you can get tonne or small bags. A couple of tonnes will do my weanlings because once they are away, I am sorted.”
“You have a nice hairy, well-shaped calf which is a good producer for a farmer to take on.”
Beef farming paints part of the picture for Kelly, who is also involved in horticulture, a venture which was inspired by his father’s passion for raspberry production.
In the mid-2000s, he began growing a small quantity of vegetables in a polytunnel and that developed to a stage in 2009, where he constructed another polytunnel on the farm.
He found that his horticulture production enterprise tied in “well” with his beef production farm through the use of FYM (farmyard manure) to encourage optimum crop growth levels.
Kelly is now reaping benefits in the form of premiums under the Organic Farming Scheme (OFS).
“If you reduce your bagged fertiliser and meal bills, straight away, you have a few more quid in your pocket.”
“You have your grant coming in. If you can get 40ha together, you have a little under €8,000 odd under the €170/ha scheme.”
“I was looking around my farm thinking, where else can I get this amount of money from? Where are you going to get €8,000 from?
“I know this is hard for farmers to do, and that was the case for me, but I have reduced my stocking rate.”
“At one stage, when I was conventional, I had 30 cows, and then I went down to 25 cows. By the time I went into this, I had gone into 17-18 cows and have lost some land, so I am working off a smaller base.”
Introducing clover to leys, aiming to harvest silage by June 1st annually and making the best use of slurry and grass are central aspects of his enterprise.
Of course, without having a outlet for his weanlings, farming this system simply would not be a viable venture.
“The nearest mart that holds organic sales is Roscommon. But, I met a person who is about 40 minutes from me who was looking for weanlings.”
“He came down, looked at my bull, cows and weanlings and now, for the past couple of years, he buys weanlings from me.”
“You can either sell them by weight or by eye, and we set a price which we have stuck to overtime, which has worked very well,” he concluded.
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