That’s Farming editor, Catherina Cunnane, in conversation with Catherine and Kieran Roseblade of Ruaircs Farm, in this week’s Farmer Focus segment. The new farming entrants run a small certified organic enterprise on 10-acres, producing pork, chickens, eggs and turkeys.
“Ruaircs Farm is Catherine’s family farm. It is just outside Milltown in north County Galway and consists of 22-acres in total. 10-acres are around our house, and the other 12 are a few miles down the road.
We are currently only farming the land around the house and have the other plot in conversion with plans to expand to farm there soon.
We are running the farm with our two daughters; there are no employees.
Catherine usually handles the paperwork and communicates with customers. Kieran looks after the animals and delivers produce; however, we are both happy to do each other’s roles when required.
Our enterprises are seasonal, but we have pigs, broilers, laying hens, and turkeys throughout the farming year.
Because we sell directly, there are no real ‘typical’ days on the farm; however, some things that have to happen are:
- A morning, midday and evening feed;
- Letting poultry out of their housing in the morning and closing them in at night.
- Moving poultry housing and fences onto fresh pasture.
When you add in taking animals to the processor or delivering them to customers, it can get quite busy with just the ‘day-to-day’ running of the farm.
We love the way farming can incorporate a family, and our kids can grow up in a great outdoor environment. However, this is also one of the biggest challenges; finding a balance between farm life and family life.
One of the biggest farming challenges we have faced so far was finding an Oxford Sandy and Black boar.
We tried AI several times with our gilts and sows, but we found it was not as successful as we needed, so we ramped up our search for the right boar.
Eventually, after about a year of searching, we found the right one for Ruaircs Farm.
I suppose one of the innate challenges of keeping rare-breed animals is that they are just that – rare.
We have two sows and a boar. We bring the weaners we get from them until they are ready for slaughter.
We do not have set ages to take them. Generally, it is between 6 months and 9 months – depending on whether we fatten them over the summer or winter.
All of our pigs are pedigree Oxford Sandy and Black. We sell them directly to customers in 10kg pork boxes.
Split into a variety of cuts, an example of a box would be:
- 3 x 1kg roasting joints;
- 5kg minced;
- 5 kg diced;
- 5 kg of sausages;
- 1kg of rashers;
- 5kg of either fillet, ribs or belly.
We are lucky to have found a fantastic, organic certified abattoir and butcher, Burns Meats, Grange Co. Sligo, who prepare these cuts for us.
We take our live pigs to them and return a week or so later to collect vac-packed cuts from them. We believe in using all the animal and ensuring there is as little waste as possible.
Therefore, we have found other outlets for things that do not go into the boxes, like heads and trotters and offal.
Also, we raise broilers (chickens for meat) as well. We get them as day-old chicks and keep them under a heat lamp in their brooder for three weeks until they have developed enough feathers to be able to go outside.
After these three weeks, they are transferred into movable shelters in batches of around 50.
They are moved onto fresh pasture every day and fed a mix of organic grains, organic legumes and an organic starter crumb.
The birds are also encouraged to graze on the grass and scratch through the fresh pasture, helping develop the soil profile.
From spring to autumn, we keep laying hens. Our flock of around 50 birds gets moved throughout our recently planted native woodlands. We deliver the eggs locally on a weekly ‘egg run’.
These chickens live in houses on wheels. We move them onto fresh pasture every couple of days, so they get nice fresh greens and spread their fertilising poop.
Our turkeys are also raised on fresh pasture, moving onto fresh grass every day.
They graze a lot more than the broilers and need a high protein diet, so we also supplement their grazing with organic grains and specialist organic starters.
We hatch out our heritage breed turkeys from eggs in early summer and have them oven-ready by Christmas.
Trees have become one of the most important parts of our farm to better the biodiversity of our smallholding.
Our pigs and poultry would naturally live in woodland, and we are trying to replicate their natural habitat on our farm.
We have a woodland for our free-range pigs and chickens to roam around in, and the other half with native fruit trees, so the pigs can forage for any windfall from them.
Nearly all of our trees have come from the trees on the land programme.
We have densely planted young woodland on 2-acres and another 2-acres with different large rootstock apple trees.
Also, we will be putting tree lines throughout the remaining fields and planting up large windbreaks and buffer zones. After this winter’s planting, we will have around 5,000 trees planted.
We have always farmed beyond organically, but once we started to produce food for more than ourselves, the certification process became important to us. We gained our organic status in May 2021 with the Organic Trust.
Being able to sell our produce locally is incredibly important to us. We would love to see loads more small, organic farms providing a community with completely traceable food.
All sales are either through previous customers or enquiries made on our website. Over 90% of our sales are in counties Galway and Mayo, which we love.
We try and help anyone who asks us for advice, as we know how hard being a new entrant in the agricultural sector is.
We have not completed any agricultural courses other than attending conferences like BIOfarm and agroforestry run through National Organic Training Skillnet.
We but have built up some amazing friends through attending events like these.
Every day in farming is different, and we have learnt so much since starting Ruaircs Farm.
I think we have got to the stage now, where we realise how much more there is to find out about.
Running the animals we have, in the rotation we have, and doing it organically, is not something many people are doing in Ireland. We are looking forward to seeing where this is going.”
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