“I think premium produce should always have a premium price and what has frustrated me down through the years is that our premium lamb was going in with everything else.”
“Atlantic Erris Lamb is about showcasing a premium product that I feel we have here. The wild elements add to the product and selling direct gives reassurance to the customer of what they are getting.”
“I think there is a lot of satisfaction in seeing your lamb on a local menu or getting a text from a person praising your lamb, but selling food and all that goes with that is no easy task!”
Those are the words of Kevin Carey, who has recently established his own business, selling lamb from his farm direct to restaurants and consumers nationwide.
Carey, who hails from the Belmullet Peninsula, took the reins of the family sheep farm in 2015, following the passing of his father, Eamon.
The Carey family of Wild Atlantic Way Farm have been in the lamb business for five-generations.
“Sheep farming was always a big interest in the family. My late father came from a farming family and we have continued on the tradition.” the founder of Atlantic Erris Lamb explained to Catherina Cunnane, editor of That’s Farming.
“My wife, Paula, who is originally from Gniezno in Poland, is now is farming in Belmullet. The kids and my siblings help when stuck for help when moving stock.” he laughed.
While lambs in Ireland are traditionally sold to factories, the married father-of-two has found an alternative route to market for his niche produce.
The part-time farmer’s lowland flock consists of over 240 sheep, mostly mules, bred off Mayo Mountains, with a New Zealand Suffolk being the ram breed of choice.
“They are hardy ewes and are outside all winter. There is very wild weather out here and they spend winter on the mountain.”
Ewes are brought inside just for lambing with lambs born in March, which is a perfect fit for this grass-based system. “Lambs are reared and finished off grass containing clover and multispecies herbs.”
“Lamb is finished wholly on grass and herbs. The location gives us a strong salty breeze which seasons the grass.”
“Lambs are reared along the shoreline with some reared and finished off Iniskea Islands, which is as natural as you will get.”
“We have started selling lambs direct with carcasses coming in 18-22kg which is great off grass. It is tender, leaner meat than most other lamb, because it is just grass-fed.”
“We have local hotels, butchers and restaurants buying along with individuals from all over the country.”
From €13.00/kg for lamb
Animals are bred from the breeds outlined above, which are chosen for their hardiness and ease of maintenance, most specifically, an ability to be fed off-grass, which, Carey stressed, is “essential” for this Bord Bia-approved premium product.
“Lambs are drafted in groups of 15-20 at a time – depending on fitness and orders. We are currently working with Valhalla Meats in Longford, a farm-to-fork processor who butcher and package our product.”
“We are currently working solely with our own flock, developing our markets and seeing where it takes us.” explained Carey, who has started to work with the Teagasc Better Farm Programme to improve efficiencies on-farm.
5,10 and 15kg mixed lamb boxes can be purchased on www.wildatlanticwayfarm.com from €13.00/kg with free nationwide delivery.
“We have had a massive interest with the juicy cutlets being, by far, the most requested – our boxes contain all popular joints, but to be honest, we’ve also had some unusual requests!”
“I think people are becoming more aware of what they are eating and where it comes from.”
“I feel the farm to fork concept will be embraced by farmers and consumers, but there are a lot of obstacles for farmers setting up like this, insurance, batch codes, packaging etc. I feel people are more interested in supporting local produce.”
Looking ahead, Carey hopes to increase his flock size and has intentions to develop a premium local beef brand, possibly with the Irish Moiled breed.
“Differentiating between the produce for both lamb and beef is imperative for west of Ireland extensive farmers.”
“Our main focus over the coming years will be developing our markets. We have a Dutch restaurant chain interested in our produce, so there is an appetite for it.”
“I think farming will only ever be part-time in the west of Ireland. I hope there is a future, but the world is in a precarious place on all fronts, but we must be positive.” Kevin concluded.
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All images provided by Kevin Carey