Joanne Hanifin speaks to Hanna and George Finlay of Ballyhubbock Farm, who have established an innovative artisan food business making sheep’s milk ice-cream.
George Finlay’s interest in sheep and his wife, Hanna’s passion, for Irish produce, have combined to establish a thriving on-farm business.
George runs the 108-acre Ballyhubbock Farm with parents, George, and Olive, and wife, in the Glen-of-Imaal, Co. Wicklow.
The farm was initially involved in dairying, but it is now a suckler and commercial sheep enterprise.
“The farm also takes in cattle over the winter for B&B to utilise everything that we have.” the owners of Ballyhubbock Farm told That’s Farming.
They lamb their 300-ewe flock in the springtime with progeny finished and drafted at optimum weight to suit the factory market.
“We try to farm as naturally as possible, so we put them in lamb and lamb them down with their natural seasons.”
They have a 21-day rotational paddock grazing system in place, and the philosophy is simple: grass equals profits.
For the Finlays, the most enjoyable aspect of farming is “turning grass into a high-quality product for people”.
In 2018, the Finlays began milking East Friesland sheep as George wanted to take his family farm in an alternative direction “to make it viable to earn a living from farming full-time”.
They began making ice-cream which they sell in local outlets such as SuperValu in Co. Wicklow through the Food Academy and other local independent stores.
“IIHF also delivers our products nationwide for any businesses interested in stocking our produce”.
“We have five flavours there is original (unflavoured), vanilla, chocolate ganache, lemon curd, and raspberry crumble.”
Farm-to-fork in the truest sense of the word
They also make halloumi and ricotta cheese which is available nationwide through Sheridan’s Cheesemongers and also through the same avenues as their ice-cream.
“Our halloumi is handmade in the traditional way – using only 100% sheep’s milk and finished with a fold. It won a Gold at the 2020 Blas Awards”.
The nutritional benefits of sheep milk
Sheep milk has multiple health benefits. It has a higher nutritional value such as “a higher vitamin and mineral levels and almost double the protein and calcium than cow’s milk vitamin and mineral content than cow’s milk and goat’s milk”.
It is naturally homogenised, leaving a creamy texture and a naturally sweet taste. “We don’t add cream; we only add a small bit of sugar-hooray!”
It has high levels of good fats from medium-chain triglycerides, which boosts the body’s natural metabolism. These fats are small meaning they “are easier to digest and the A2 type of casein is less likely to trigger inflammation”.
This milk is highly suitable for people who are lactose intolerant or have digestive issues.
Starting a business
The Finlays admitted starting up their own business was very time-consuming, requiring patience and “a lot of hard work behind the scenes which is now coming to fruition”.
“Setting-up, in general, was quite difficult as it took a long time to source sheep. Then, we had to put the ewes in-lamb, lamb them down and milk them. That was before even attempting to design products or achieve our licensing.”
As they had no sales and marketing background, they found this aspect challenging at the beginning of their business venture.
“We had to put some hard work in and let the products speak for themselves. Thankfully, they’ve been well-received”.
“Now that things are starting to take shape, it’s so rewarding to see people enjoying our real Irish farmhouse produce.”
“We would sell a good deal of produce to our foodservice customers, which unfortunately has ceased as our excellent chefs cannot open their doors for a great deal of the Covid-19 pandemic.”
“The support through our retail customers and consumers has been excellent, which has kept us on our toes throughout 2020.”
The Finlays aim to steadily increase the sales of their “high quality and well-loved products” in the short-term to grow their business.
They aspire to develop new products in the long-term while building “a fully functional purpose-built production facility which will enable us to be both efficient and lean”.
“We would love to sell meat and wool direct from the farm eventually. Our goal is to utilise as much as we can from our farm.”
“In summary, we would like to thank anyone who has backed us, supported us and helped us to follow our dream to work on and build a business from our family farm to support our family”, they concluded.