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Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnanehttps://www.thatsfarming.com/
Catherina Cunnane hails from a sixth-generation drystock and specialised pedigree suckler enterprise in Co. Mayo. She currently holds the positions of editor and general manager at That's Farming, having joined the firm during its start-up phase in 2015.
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‘I looked into farming because of my health check with my doctor’ – Farmer pocketing up to €18/kg

That’s Farming editor, Catherina Cunnane, in conversation with Ross Newcombe (44), a Waterford pig farmer in this week’s Farmer Focus segment.

I am residing in Knockmealdown Mountains, Lismore Co. Waterford, but I am originally from Stroud in Gloucestershire, where I grew up on a dairy farm.

I have lived in Waterford since 2004 with my partner, Siobhan Hubbard, originally from Mayo and our daughter, Sorcha (13).

I went to college & studied building, so I took a break from farming for a while, and my father still runs his farm in the UK.

Moreover, I have been a full-time farmer since 2019. I started looking into farming again in 2016, and this was when I bought my first pig.

I did this because of my health check with my doctor. My cholesterol levels were 18.9. off the scale, apparently.

This pushed me to investigate my diet, and the closest thing to us was a pig. As I loved my sausage and bacon and was told to give it up, why not start here, then?

Waterford pig farmer

I started looking into how food was processed after my visit to the doctor, and this pushed us as a family to grow our own food.

We started with 1 pig & 10 laying hens: a handful of broilers & a garden full of vegetables & fruit.

Siobhan works full-time as a community development worker in Waterford County but puts all her energy into the farm on the weekend and holidays.

She does not come from a farming background, but she thrives on working with animals & helps me plan out planting areas for the coming season.

We bought our current house & farm in 2018 when we had enough research done into where our food came from, and this is when we had decided to farm on a full-time basis for ourselves.

We bought our house with 3-acres surrounding it and leased a further 24-acres about 5km away from some friends of ours who wanted to do what we do but never got the chance to try as life got in the way.

Also, we have recently collaborated with a local catering company to supply a pig on a spit for local events. This is something we are going to expand hopefully next year.

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Breeds

We have a herd of pedigree Oxford Sandy & Black Sows (four different bloodlines).

These are rare breed pigs that we have a passion for, and one Tamworth boar. We currently rear approximately 60 fattened pigs a year.

Also, we started with four breeding ewes in August 2018 to help us manage the grass, and now we have 11 breeding ewes & 5 hoggets for breeding next year, with 5 wethers for sale this year.

We keep our own breeding stock & sell off any surplus.

We are registered with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine/ HSE to sell our vegetables & meat directly from the farm.

Overall, we are passionate about where our food comes from and how it is produced, so our aim was to produce good local, sustainable food directly from our doorstep.

Pork boxes

As well as selling directly from the farm, we offer pork and bacon mixed box offers with free local delivery fortnightly.

We currently supply an artisan bakery (Dun Artisan Bakery in Dungarvan) with pork mince for their sausage rolls.

Also, we supply the 360 Cookhouse in Dungarvan with fresh pastured pork for their menu.

So, we began selling directly from the farm in August 2021 once we met the needs of the EHO.

We receive €15 per kg for Pork or €18 per kg for cured meats (hams, bacon etc.) and €11 per kg for our farmhouse sausages.

We carefully selected our breeds for many reasons; we selected our Tamworth boar, Bruce, from an outdoor farm in the Wicklow mountains; for their hardiness, and we selected the OSB for their soft fat & the marbling throughout the meat.

Our pigs are slow-grown on a range of different grasses, forbes, root vegetables, pumpkins, brassicas, field peas, some beans & cereals (black oats, & wheat grown in the fields & animals are strip grazed).

We move our animals regularly to avoid excessive worm load on the ground. Moreover, we do not use any chemicals on our ground or for our animals; we treat everything with natural remedies, but the trick is prevention rather than cure.

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Selling direct

We get to meet every customer giving the best service we can, and they also get to see how we run the farm.

In most cases, we offer each customer an opportunity to see how their food has been produced.

Weather permitting, we give a small farm tour around the house. This is also how most of our vegetables get sold, as we let them pick their own produce fresh from the garden.

We are currently working to get this up and running, but orders come through our website Messenger service or social media accounts.

We use different worming methods throughout the year and mainly use diatomaceous earth all-year-round for all animals.

This covers some intestinal worms but mainly is for externals parasites (mites or louse) on their skin.

Some of the worming methods we use are various plants & forbes, i.e., pumpkin seeds (curcumin), plantain seeds/chicory extract / a range of herbs given monthly to include lovage, pigweed, lady’s thumb etc.

We are constantly learning new & improved methods of natural, sustainable farming.

A typical day in the life

We feed our animals twice a day and give a constant supply of sweet meadow hay to avoid hunger pangs and frustration.

As all of our pigs are outdoors, we ensure they all have full wallows, especially in the hotter months, as they need protection from the sun and a constant supply of fresh water.

The to-do list never seems to end – daily jobs could include setting up fencing in fresh pasture for the next move or reseeding another piece of field.

Harvest vegetables for pigs – we grow many varieties of kale, runner beans, peas, tomatoes, cucumbers, courgettes, and many other vegetables in our own garden & polytunnel.

We crop this daily for the pigs as a lunchtime snack as it is way too much for us to eat.

Increasing prices

In the last six months, the increase in pricing in everything has been the biggest challenge.

Fuel being the biggest cost as we use our tractor or small digger all-year-round to maintain all the ground we use and move the mobile pig units & IBC tanks a lot.

Also, we have a major issue with the high numbers of deer around the farm that we lease.

We have 13-acres of deciduous woods within this part of the farm, and we are constantly looking at ways to keep the deer from passing through as they damage a lot of fencing.

Life on a farm we find is very beneficial for our health and well-being as we are always outside in the fresh air, provides opportunities for problem-solving, and we do not need a gym membership as the amount of physical work we do daily is enough.

We love being around our animals as they all have their own personalities, and we believe it a great way to teach our daughter about food security. Moreover, we get great satisfaction selling a quality product.

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Processing

Our biggest challenge since we have started supplying the public is getting our pigs processed.

We have seen an increase in processing pricing in the last year and also several smaller abattoirs closing.

This has led to us having to shop around a lot which puts a lot of pressure on us at times.

We are not happy with this as changing butchers means inconsistency/change in packaging & labelling of our products.

Despite this, our aim is to keep providing local, sustainable, quality meat.

Our next mission is to fix up the old cow barn to house a couple of milkers so we can have fresh milk, cream and butter on-site also.

We are looking into the possibility of our own processing unit on site where we will provide fresh pork products all-year-round & truly be farm to fork.

We desire to offer a true farm experience where you see exactly where & how your food is produced.

Also, we would like to make our own sausages using the fresh herbs from the garden and have other ideas that we hope to achieve soon.

HUMAC

Moreover, we are looking into a new product available in Ireland – HUMAC. We believe in researching this product; that it will support our method of farming as it also directly:

  • Benefits the health of the soil;
  • Reduces erosion, provides healthier animals;
  • Enables more effective farming practices.

Overall, I desire to set up our own processing unit on-site, so I can make provide fresh produce all year round.

We believe in eating meat that is sustainably and ethically raised and humanely slaughtered.

It is not only good for our bodies, but we are thankful to be living on this big sphere we call earth and want to honour what nature has given us by taking care of it.

Because of this, we also believe in raising happy animals that are well cared for. A happy animal is a healthy animal.

Reflection

We started our venture in 2018 and have never looked back; as a family, we grow all our own vegetables, are registered with the Dept of food & Marine to sell our vegetables, and the HSE for our meat products and all surplus veg is fed to our pigs!

We love what we do and keep pedigree Heritage Breed Oxford Sandy & Black cross Tamworth that are humanely reared using no chemicals or veterinary medicines.

Also, we use our wonderful pigs to clear ground, fertilise it and produce quality meat. We believe every pig should enjoy life and let them be as natural as possible.

Our role is very different from even a quarter of a century ago, but it is very much in keeping with the historical role of the small family farm for pork production and swine welfare.

We are more focused on the care and management of our animals as we feel better about this kind of pig production and see a very bright future for artisan foods.

With a traditional breed giving a special product gives a distinct approach to production; thus, a better and more becoming life can be created for both farmer and animal.

Support local

Fresh slow grown local produce has always been a focus for our family. We started out very small, and thanks to the support of our community and customers, we have been able to expand and evolve our produce department to what it is today.

Our philosophy is to support local produce, and this has been our goal from the beginning.

During the growing season, our fields are stocked with a large variety of produce as fodder for our pigs

We believe that choosing to buy local is not only better for our local economy but also reduces our ecological footprint.

Although we are not registered as organic, we use no herbicides or chemical pest control.

We have links with several butchers locally who process and package our meat, which we then sell directly from our farm,” the Waterford pig farmer.

To share your story like this Waterford pig farmer, email – [email protected]

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