Robert Stanley, a 33-year-old beef farmer, has taken the brave step to goes against the crowd and to continue to work in suckler farming, despite the beef industry currently suffering.
Most farmers seem to be jumping ship into dairy farming or renting their land to dairy farmers.
He farms in Coppenagh House just outside Tullow, County Carlow. Locals would know it better as the ‘showgrounds’ or Young’s of Coppenagh. Every August it hosts the Tullow Agricultural Show and has done so for the last 50 years.
Robert runs the farm on a part-time basis while balancing a separate full-time job. Working as a farmer is not just a job, but “a lifestyle”, as he explained.
“I have a full-time job and my parents own a hardware shop in Tullow, so I am part-time on the farm, although it takes up full time!”
“Monday to Friday, I service cookers and ranges all around the country so I could be anywhere from West Cork to Connemara.”
“I check the calves in the morning before I go, that could be 5:30am or 6am, go do a day’s work, come home then and go do another days work on the farm. It could be from 6:30/7:00 o’clock to 10 o’clock at night.”
Is converting dairy an option?
At a time when many are moving to dairy farming, Robert is holding the faith in beef farming coming back with a boom.
He says it is a battle due to the fact that the beef factories are constantly “driving beef prices down”, making it a difficult business to survive in.
The hard work and time put into the farm are met with a constant frustration of battling the factories low prices. Although he has considered a switch to dairy, he says the figures just do not add up, in terms of the cost of equipment and man-hours to get the job done.
“But we are hoping that in the long-term, beef farming will come back around. My dad says if everyone is going one way, you should turn around and go another way.”
35-40-cow suckler herd
The aim of the farm is to produce high-quality bred beef cattle. The farm contains 35 to 40 suckler cows, with a mix of breeds, including Aubrac which run with a pedigree Aubrac. He has a hybrid bull which is a cross between a Belgian Blue and a pedigree Parthenaise.
“I find that the better bred the animal is, the more production, he’ll give you or the more weight gain you get out of cross-bred animals.”
“You get far more return out of a better animal, in my opinion. Your profitability should be higher because the weight gain from the better animals is better.”
They are coming up to their first year of having their own progeny. He has said that in the past it was a struggle to find good quality bulls at low prices. Now, the option of breeding them himself seems to make more sense to Robert.
“You would know the difference by breeding your own, you can keep the quality of it, you can keep the better bulls with the better cows, and you can breed what you want.”
The young farmer is remaining positive about the future of suckler farming in Ireland. He is hoping that where there is good breeding, good business is sure to follow.
Despite the young farmer describing himself as “not tech-savvy”, his Instagram page is growing in followers.
His wife, Ciara, suggested that he should start an Instagram page exclusively for the farm in order to give people a good insight into the thriving enterprise and a way for people to see Roberts’s passion.
Promoting his work online could be exactly what the future of farming needs, to see a proud young farmer passionate about his work. This could inspire the younger generation to stay in the industry.
“The dog I suppose takes centre stage sometimes, but it gives you a better look at what people want to see.”
“I think there are under 200 people following it but that’s close to 200 people who want to see what you’re doing and are interested in suckler farming and interested in a young farmer trying to get going I suppose.”
If Roberts’s optimism and hard work are rewarded in the future, and beef production does, in fact, come back strong, he would love the opportunity to farm full-time.
This, however, will only be the case if it is financially viable. He describes this as the “ultimate achievement”.
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Main image: Ní Riain Photography