Farm Ireland
Independent.ie

Sunday 4 December 2016

One man's journey to organic production with Aubrac cattle

Case study: Michael Heslin, Gortlettragh, Co Leitrim

Farming Independent team

Published 18/11/2016 | 15:00

An Aubrac herd is ideally suited to a social farming setting, says Michael Heslin
An Aubrac herd is ideally suited to a social farming setting, says Michael Heslin

Michael Heslin farms in Gortlettragh, Co Leitrim. He converted to organic farming with IOFGA in 2009 and around about the same time he became involved with social farming.

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"I decided to convert to organic farming as I was not eating what I was producing, so to correct that wrong I went organic as you are what you eat," he explained.

"Equally, I feel passionately about social farming. I think that it works fantastically and participants really get a sense of pride in what they do.

"It's a great way to open up farms to the wider community, while at the same time providing an opportunity for participants to engage in physical activity."

Michael has three participants on the farm one day a week, and tasks are decided based on ability and skills of the people involved.

Jobs such as fencing, hanging gates, making tool racks, feeding animals and cleaning out sheds are all part of the mix on the farm.

"Ideally we love to get out but it is weather dependent. We usually begin the day by having a cup of tea and scone, then we discuss and explain the tasks for the day. Progress can often be slow, but that said it is also a great opportunity to get a range of jobs done on the farm that often hang on the long finger," he continued.

Michael farms 55ac, and has Aubrac cattle which he thinks are ideally suited to a social farming setting.

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"Aubracs by their nature are very docile, and they really do not need a whole lot of intervention.

"They thrive and finish well on about 70pc of what you would have to give another breed. Participants love working with animals and I have found the Aubrac ideal as they do not need to be herded, they simply come when they are called and then follow us from field to field," he said.

Michael Heslin hosts social farming on his Co Leitrim holding where he keeps an Aubrac herd which he says is ideally suited to a social farming setting
Michael Heslin hosts social farming on his Co Leitrim holding where he keeps an Aubrac herd which he says is ideally suited to a social farming setting

Social farming participants are often some of the most vulnerable and marginalised people in society and range from people with physical and emotional disabilities, mental health problems, addiction issues and those in the probation system.

"These are people who usually do not have a voice in society and have no one to advocate or speak up for them. Everyone agrees that social farming projects work very well; however, funding models to pay farmers to participate are still being developed, so we need to ensure that the powers that be see the merit in what farmers are doing with regard to social farming projects.

"Hopefully this new network which I am delighted to be part of, will make payment for farmers a component of projects, as farmers' time is just as valuable as everyone else's which is something that we often forget," he said.

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