Graham Armitage may only be twenty-two-years-old, but he is already living his dream as a full-time farmer.
He runs a beef and sheep enterprise in partnership with his father, Trevor, and mother, Georgina, in the heart of Birr, Co. Offaly.
He returned to the family farm on a full-time basis two years ago following the completion of his Green Cert at Gurteen Agricultural College.
“All my family have always been involved in farming. I enjoy working with stock, but it can be challenging to find time for yourself as you always have a pile of work to do,” he explained to Catherina Cunnane, editor of That’s Farming.
“This is particularly true in the case of lambing season and other busiest periods throughout the year.”
“My course helped me learn a lot about grassland management and how even as beef and sheep farmers, we need to maximise our profits by using grass to its maximum potential.”
The family have a variety of breeds on their mixed enterprise, although Friesians are the main choice.
“I have always wanted to farm full-time. We don’t keep any sucklers, but we are finishing beef.”
“A dealer buys all our cattle for us. Why Friesians? Well, on day one, if they are cheaper to buy than others, you are starting off on the right foot.”
“We purchase cattle from 12-18-months of age and try to finish these under 36-months; they are fed off as much as grass as possible, but we also use Sean Tully feed ration.”
“It is mainly made from waste from different industries and is a cost-effective choice that we find cattle perform well on.”
In addition to their beef herd, the Armitages also run a flock of approximately 150 ewes, which consists of Mules and Mule-cross ewes.
They run a Beltex ram for ease of lambing with progeny delivering impressive kill-out results. Two Texel rams, two Charollais-Beltex cross and a Charollais-cross-Rouge also dominate the pastures.
“I find Mules to be easy lambing with a strong mothering ability and lots of milk. I aim to be lambing around the first week of February with a view to getting ewes and lambs out to high-quality grass before cattle are turned out.”
“It also means that I can get lambs away earlier for a slightly higher price with all lambs slaughtered through a local dealer.”
“I don’t feed any meal to lambs on grass and find high-quality early grass helps.”
Constantly striving to progress, the family are currently working on improving their grassland management strategies through the creation of more sheep and cattle paddocks while simultaneously trying to reseed and get soil pHs balanced.
“Soil-testing the entire farm last year has helped us to understand what we need to do to get our farm performing to its highest potential.”
Looking ahead, the family hope to increase their flock size as that is where Graham’s main interest lies.
“At the minute on our farm, we are currently fixing up a bunch of unusable old sheds and making them into one big sheep shed to accommodate the growing flock size on the farm.”
“The greatest challenge I have faced since coming home full-time has been a poor beef price.”
Another challenge, he revealed, has been trying to finish cattle as cost-effectively as possible to “turn any profit at all”.
“We have made our farm viable by running a grass-based finishing system to reduce our costs and maximise profits and also sheep have helped me make it viable to stay at home.”
“The future in beef price is looking a bit brighter since the price has improved in recent weeks, but it still has a long way to go.”
“Life as a young farmer can be tough and that is why so few young people are going into farming.”
“With poor prices, why would they consider it? There aren’t enough incentives to get young people at home farming, but I still wouldn’t change what I do.” Graham concluded.
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