That’s Farming editor, Catherina Cunnane, in conversation with John Mullins (37) from Reeks View Farm, Barrys Cross, Killorglin, County Kerry, in this week’s Farmer Focus segment.
I was born in London and moved to Ireland when I was one-year-old and have been living here on the farm since I was twelve years of age.
My wife has been helping me for the last 15 years on the farm, and the kids, Dillon (7), Ben (5) and Donnacha (3), assist as well.
Our farm had not been touched in 60 years when we moved onto it. At 12, I decided I would start something on it and kept ponies with the help of my mam and dad, Esther and Allan.
Reeks View Farm
I am a part-time farmer, as unfortunately, the return is not there anymore to sustain full-time work, so I work in digital marketing & promotions with The Brand Geeks in Killorglin.
We run a 25-ha farm of mostly mountain grazing. The farm belonged to my grandfather; it was left idle since the 1960s.
We moved onto the farm in 1998 and reclaimed several acres of reasonable-quality land.
Much of it is old bogland, cutaway bog etc. a lot of native trees had taken over, and grazing was not abundant.
We started out with ponies, and I bred horses in my teens before venturing into sheep. We used to run early lambing but changed this year gone to a March lambing system as the spiralling cost of inputs meant the margin from early lambing was gone.
I have always had a love of nature and consciously made the decision that we would try to work as close to nature as possible.
We made the decision to limit the input of chemical fertilliser and stopped spraying any herbicides in 2012.
Whilst we do battle with wet land and the use of herbicides in the past improved grazing, the benefit to the biodiversity on the farm was clear after almost 12 months with a wide variety of dragonflies, butterflies, moths, birds, bees and bats all being more abundant.
Currently, we have to maintain a lower stocking rate to ensure our rotation system works, but typically, we rotate grazing in 5-day blocks, and each block rests for at least 25 and up to 30 days before being grazed again.
We have a commercial flock of crossbred ewes, and we use horned Dorset rams.
We find that given the quality of the land, the lambs from the Dorset thrive and are quick growers. The ewes are a Dorset/Cheviot/Belclare mix. We have tried other rams but found the lambs were too soft and slow to come on.
Our biggest problem is the rush; we control these mechanically with a mower, but the land is beginning to tire, so we will be looking at reseeding in the next 12-18 months.
We grow a lot of our household veg, as much as we can, expanding this with the addition of a polytunnel next year.
We have our own poultry for eggs. At one stage, we used to milk two goats, but with both my wife and I full-time in work, we stopped. We process two lambs for the freezer using a local butcher to process all the meat.
Previously, we partook in GLAS, which was a great scheme to help support biodiversity and had actions such as solitary bee homes, bird boxes, bat boxes etc.
We have now entered ACRES, but it remains to be seen how this will be operated and its overall contribution. I do not believe that government do enough to help alleviate the rising cost of farm inputs.
The winter gone will not be covered by the sale of lambs this year, so the cost of feed and bedding will be higher than the revenue made from the sale of the lambs.
We have a small sheep shed for lambing and some stables for the few horses I have left; outside of that, we used a quad and have items like a mower, and spreader for that.
The land is so wet that there are only four months that it can be travelled without being ploughed up by modern heavy machinery.
Juggling family, farming and work life
Day to day, we, in the summer months, our main activities are rotating sheep around, and managing the usual issues.
We are lucky to have fairly resilient sheep and do not suffer from foot issues, even with wet land.
In the summer months, a typical day starts at 6.30 am. We get all the animals checked on before the kids get up for school.
As I said, we work full-time, so work has to be done on the farm early and then in the evening. The winter months for us are hectic; we keep all the ewes in for about four months.
This gives the land a chance to recover and keeps it from becoming poached. We lamb in as well, so there are regular trips all day and night for the 2-3 weeks of lambing.
We are farming almost out of habit at this point. The financial return that I was getting maybe five years ago is almost gone.
We are looking at options to diversify farm income in the hope that it will allow us to maintain the farm and support our income.
As I was saying, the financial return from farming is starting to disappear, so we are, at this very moment discussing the viability of continuing.
We are looking at agritourism options right now, so watch this space. I think farmers are some of the best entrepreneurs you will find out there.
It is one of those industries where we are constantly reinventing ourselves and overcoming tighter regulations and challenges, such as price wars between retailers that, at the end of the day, impact us.
It is that entrepreneurial spirit and drive that will keep farmers going.
I believe sheep farmers are coming into some hard times, and with the limit, we have on stock, I plan on looking to other revenue streams to ensure the future of the farm, agritourism being one of them.
Short-term, we are looking at switching from primarily sheep enterprise and getting weanling calves and holding them for six to seven months and moving them on before the winter.
Long term, as mentioned previously, we are exploring a number of agritourism-based enterprises, such as glamping, to help support the farm income.
Our area was once densely forested, so I would like to focus on returning some more native woodland and expanding this in the future.
I am undertaking a number of actions to try and get ducks to begin nesting on the lake our land borders and trying to create a symbiotic environment where we can farm, and nature can thrive.
As for the future of farming, it is hard to tell. We are not a large commercial farm.
The challenges facing the sector at present, even just input costs, are crippling people. My hope is that the DAFM can create joined-up thinking when it comes to their environmental scheme to help preserve what nature we have left.
It is important to rely on the community of farmers around you; these people have been there, done that and tried it all.
Farmers, in general, love sharing their stories, what they do well, what worked, and what did not. So, never be afraid to get their advice.
I think any advice I would have given my younger self would have been to pay closer attention to what your neighbours are doing.
The wealth of experience and knowledge local farmers have could have helped me learn lessons faster.”
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