In this week’s Student Focus, That’s Farming, hears how the Covid-19 pandemic presented a 21-year-old, sheep farmer and UCD ag student, Adam Hanratty, with an opportunity to establish North East Poultry Ireland.
Adam Hanratty may have just turned twenty-one, but he has made tremendous strides in the agricultural field in a relatively short period of time.
The Togher, County Louth native helps his father, Damien, with their 250-ewe flock, is an animal and crop production student at UCD and has recently established his own poultry business.
NorthEast Poultry Ireland’s proprietor is the fifth generation of his family to carry on the long-standing farming tradition.
“I spent my childhood helping my dad on the farm with anything I could for as long as I can remember, enjoying every minute,” he told That’s Farming.
“My father, Damien, works on the farm full-time. I help whenever I have free time and with any big jobs such as shearing.”
The father and son team farm 250 Lleyn-cross ewes along with 40 pedigree Texels. This year, they scanned in at 1.85 lambs per ewe, resulting from strict culling and utilising Lleyn rams for the past five years.
They keep all lambs up to slaughter and purchase store lambs to finish alongside these annually.
“We do most of the farm work ourselves, from making hay, spreading dung and shearing, for example. The most enjoyable part of farming for me is working with livestock.”
“I never really had an interest in driving tractors, as I would prefer getting hands-on with animals.”
On the other hand, Adam’s venture into poultry farming began when he was 10-years-old when his grandmother purchased four hens for him.
By the time he was 14, he had 22 hens and sold eggs to neighbours. “When I wanted to expand the number of hens I had, I realised it was hard to source good quality point-of-lay hens.”
“This made me buy 100 day-old chicks to rear and sell what I did not want myself to the public.”
He continued this line of business up until last summer when he was unable to meet the demand for poultry, which led to the establishment of his own company, NorthEast Poultry Ireland.
“I started up a Facebook page and began supplying people in the north-east with backyard poultry. Since then, the company has grown, my Facebook page has over 1,000 likes, and I have sold over 2,500 birds to customers nationwide.”
From humble beginnings
The young farmer sells all type of poultry; chickens, ducks, geese, pheasants and turkeys, with his primary target market being average households, given the popularisation of people wanting fresh free-range eggs straight from their back garden.
“I sell hens to all customers, from rural to urban gardens. I sell various breeds of chickens such as Bluebells, Blackrocks, Leghorns, and breeds with uniquely coloured eggs. Also, I sell small coops and equipment for first-time hen owners.”
Late last year, he noticed the potential in contract rearing chickens for large orders. One of his recent orders was 300 pullets for a farm-to-fork company, SeanNua Farm, based in Bailieborough County Cavan.
“I care for chickens from day-olds right up until 15-weeks-old, giving them the best start to life and quality nutrition and optimum spacing, which I believe to be better than the high stocking factory rearing we see in Ireland today.”
His contract rearing orders are “growing rapidly” due to the popularisation of farm-to-fork companies and demand for better food traceability and animal welfare in Ireland in recent months.
Besides, he rears geese and turkeys to poult (5-weeks-old) for farmers and farm-to-fork companies.
“I was lucky enough to work out of a large free shed on my father’s farm so far. However, I am now seeking options to build a new shed on the farm to keep up with its growth.”
“When starting up, I was lucky to have the help of my father and brother to care for the birds if I was occupied with college or work and my girlfriend to help with the company’s online marketing side.”
Running the business during a pandemic has brought its fair share of challenges and advantages as the entrepreneur pointed out. “Obviously, with strict lockdowns, I could not sell as many birds as I would have liked to.”
“But with everyone working from home this last year, people have more time and were willing to commit to keeping hens.”
“I primarily use Facebook, Instagram, and Donedeal as methods of promoting the business. I try to post every week with a structured text and a good quality photo on my social channels.”
“In winter and strict lockdowns, I post tips in keeping hens on the page to give followers interesting content without just advertising sales every week.
UCD and work placements
The 21-year-old juggles his farming and business commitments with his studies at UCD. He is a third-year animal and crop production student at the college, having enrolled in the four-year degree programme in 2018.
He is currently completing work placement in Dee Side Agri walking crops with an agronomist and will work with Teagasc poultry adviser, Rebecca Tierney thereafter.
“I have enjoyed every moment of the course. We learn a lot about all aspects of the industry, unlike other courses. I love how we can learn the science, the business, and the practical aspect of the agricultural industry.”
“From when I was 15, I had my heart set on this course; it was my first choice, and it has lived up to all my expectations and more.”
“One thing I will say is first-years should be prepared for a primarily science-based year in their first-year, but after that, our studies are more focused on the agricultural side.”
“Studying at home has been tough, and I miss the social aspect of college. I hope to return to college for my final year and get back to Ryan’s on a Wednesday night with my friends.”
“However, this time has also given me the opportunity to start my business and spend more time on the family farm.”
He admitted that at times, balancing the business, his studies, work, and sheep farming can be “tough, especially now waking up at 3 am to do the lambing night shift, but this is what we live for, and I thoroughly enjoy it”.
He finds that keeping a structure and a plan is vital now for designating time to take care of his poultry, liaising with customers, and switching off and spending time with loved ones.
A ‘bright’ future
As for the future, he has “no real concrete plan” and is not closing any doors to the possibility of work, travel and growing his business to a larger scale.
“I have one more year of my studies, and I am looking into furthering my education, possibly with a masters of poultry science.” Togher Macra’s acting PRO commented.
“Agriculture is a growing and changing industry. In my opinion, the future looks bright as the industry seeks to go greener and be more sustainable.” Louth Macra’s young farmer representative added.
“The demand for high-quality food and food traceability is growing. I think this gives the country an opportunity to compete against factory farming importing cheaply made food.”
“Both farming styles and consumer buying habits need to change, which brings its difficulties, but I think it is very exciting to see this transition starting.”
“We are at a very important stage of the industry’s history which is a great opportunity for young people in agriculture,” Adam concluded.
Are you involved in poultry farming? To share your story, email – [email protected]