Regenerative farmer, Cathal Mooney of Heather Hill Farm, runs a 10-acre mixed enterprise in Co Donegal.
The Dunkineely native takes a holistic approach to farming, focusing on ecological, social, and economical goals.
His farm comprises 6-acres of grassland, 2-acres of woodlands, and 2-acres of housing, garden and polytunnels.
Heather Hill Farm’s pasture-raised chicken, turkey and eggs, wildflower honey, and grass-fed lamb provide “multiple streams of income”.
Mooney explained: “We farm in a regenerative manner, which means we try to copy nature and mimic how nature does things and incorporate that into an agricultural system.”
“The other two aspects of the farm are being socially beneficial, producing quality food for the local community and that we are economical – so I can make a living doing this.”
“Our goal is to produce local food for the community. We want our customers to become our friends and come to the farm to see how their food is produced.”
“We aim to produce quality grass-fed produce that improves the soil, adds value to our community and sustains the farm into the future.”
Holistic grazing and Silvopasture system
Working in ways that mimic nature, building healthy soil, selling direct to customers, and providing education around regenerative agriculture is central to what Heather Hill Farm does.
He operates a holistic planned grazing system, meaning he moves animals to fresh pasture every day.
Not only does this benefit animals, but it helps build soil fertility and create habitats.
“We focus on growing good grass. Animals get a square for that day and have enough food for that day. It will be about 35 days before we come back when the grass is ready to graze again.”
He has constructed an egg-mobile, which allows them to gain access to fresh grass daily.
“Meanwhile, turkeys were an interesting one for us. When we looked at nature, I asked myself, what would I like if I were a turkey? If I were a turkey, I would hate the cold, dark and wet.
“That is basically Donegal. So having a fresh turkey here in Donegal at Christmas was not an option for me ethically.”
“So, we take our turkeys, and we grow them in the summer when there is lovely, lush grass.”
“We harvest them in September, freeze them and deliver a premium quality pasture-raised turkey to customers.”
Pigs as opposed to tractors/ machinery
He is considering converting part of his farm back to agro-forestry for a combination of grasses and trees.
“We have pigs here to do that. So, we bring them in and let them clear the area. That will encourage germination and some grasses to come through.”
“I could buy myself a tractor or a digger to clear the area. But I would have a depreciating piece of machinery.”
“But here, I have an appreciating piece of machinery in a pig that is going to do a wonderful job ecologically.”
“Then, I am going to have quality food for customers at the end of the year.”
Fruits, trees, bushes
He has implemented a Silvopasture system where he has planted fruit trees, nut trees and berry bushes throughout their grassland. This increases biodiversity and contributes to healthy soil.
Common visitors to the farm include red squirrels and red deer. This year, he plans to build a pond on the farm to create a water habitat.
Cathal is passionate about education. He believes strongly in building personal relationships with his customers and educating them on where their food comes from and how it is produced.
He frequently runs farm tours/open days, allowing customers and farmers to see first-hand the regenerative farming practices he carries out.
“My goal here is not to get as big as possible, but it is to get as small as possible. I just need to produce my income, and I see it as a challenge to do that on the smallest piece of land possible.”
Farming for Nature
Now in its fourth year, FFN aims to “source, share and celebrate the stories of farmers across Ireland who manage their land in a way that sustains nature while providing a livelihood for their families”.
The seven ambassadors will feature at the annual Burren Winterage Weekend in October. Organisers will announce the winner of the public vote at this event.
To share your story like Heather Hill Farm, email – [email protected]