Native breeds have been instrumental in bringing the 18th-century Killua Castle Farm in the heart of Westmeath back to life.
The farm recently featured on RTÉ One’s award-winning food, farming and rural affairs programme, Ear to the Ground.
Presenter, Helen Carroll, visited the Austrian-Mexican couple, Alan, an economist who made his fortune in banking and real estate, and Lorena Krause, who, together, began restoring Killua castle in 2006 in a 22-year project.
Working alongside their farm manager, Anthony Gilsenan, they have also restored rare cattle breeds, including what is now a large herd of Irish Moiled cattle on 340ac of owned and rented land.
The farm manager told Carroll: “We selected Moiled cattle for their temperament and phenomenal conversion from grass to beef.”
“We feed no meal to the cattle at all; it is all grass-fed and silage for the winter months.”
“Moileds were the native cow, basically, in the north of Ireland and down south, but maybe not as much around this area, but I suppose, they were easy to keep and are dual-purpose, with dairy and beef traits.”
With the exception of cows that are calving, the herd spends the full year outdoors, as he explained further:
“They [cattle] thrive on it. Cattle that were out last winter looked better than ones that were housed,” before adding that silage is the farm’s only input.
A stock bull runs with the herd all year round, so there is no set calving pattern on this particular enterprise.
“Some will calf inside early on, and then the rest of the cows are outside where they calve down. Because we do not have all animals of the one age, it suits the beef production end of things,” he commented.
In line with its rare breed conversation interests, the estate also produces Jacob sheep, Dexter cattle, Old Irish Goats, Wild Boar and Red Deer.
“It has nearly now come back to inputs and everything. To finish a continental, you have you pump them full of meal.”
“Grass-silage finishes deer; for the Moileds, it is silage only; for the Dexters, apart from anything else, they just look after themselves; you just open the field gate, count them, and that is it.”
“It is lovely to see the native breeds coming back and just for the whole environment,” he commented.
Alan, the owner, also appeared in the segment, and he explained that red deer were among the first animals that he reintroduced to the farm.
He outlined: “We knew the red deer had been here and that they had been around since at least Roman times.”
“They seemed to be the correct animal. We let them produce for some time, and then we started processing them with a simple strategy: try to have something that will allow us to make a living, not just to break even and depend on a subsidy.”
Carroll then explained that Alan worked previously at US Goldman Sachs before setting up his own global investment and real estate companies.
She said that “his strategy of farming rare, native breeds is a deliberate farm-to-fork business plan” with a newly constructed restaurant on-site and a new off-site plant for meat processing.