Farm Ireland
Independent.ie

Sunday 4 December 2016

Family army saves first cut with military precision

My week: The Phelan family

Ken Whelan

Published 15/06/2016 | 02:30

The Phelan family harvesting silage at Clogh, Castlecomer, Co. Kilkenny. From left: James, Claire, Nicholas, Noreen, Harry, Larry, Liam and Mary - also assisting was Roxy the dog. Photo: Alf Harvey.
The Phelan family harvesting silage at Clogh, Castlecomer, Co. Kilkenny. From left: James, Claire, Nicholas, Noreen, Harry, Larry, Liam and Mary - also assisting was Roxy the dog. Photo: Alf Harvey.
Mary Phelan drawing silage at Clogh, Castlecomer, Co. Kilkenny.

They had a great first cut at the Phelan farm before the holiday weekend and yet another great family reunion at the dairy, beef and tillage enterprise in Clogh, outside Castlecomer, in Co Kilkenny.

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"We were texting each other in the run up to the cut on the week before the June bank holiday waiting for the off. The routine is that we get the tractors hosed down and oil up the machinery at the end of April or start of May then clean out the pits and get going before June," explains Mary the youngest of the Phelans this week.

All of the family members usually come back to the home farm for the week despite working off farm in various careers from marketing to engineers

Mary (22), a Carlow IT graduate in marketing now working with IFAC, spends as much time as possible on the farm simply because she loves farming. "I go back to the farm at every opportunity. People say I am mad because I am literally going from work to work but I love it. It's the same with all eight of us," she says.

The home farm, which covers 500 acres with some rented land, contains a herd of some 120 Friesian-Holsteins supplying milk at 3.4-3.5pc proteins to Glanbia along with a herd of Limousins for slaughter. Over 100ac are reserved for tillage where wheat, barley and beet are grown for on farm livestock rations.

The Clogh farm is run by Liam (38), the second eldest, who is married to Kathleen. They have three children - Sarah (4), Billy (3) and Nichole who was born last January.

It falls to Liam to do the texting to bring back Team Phelan to Kilkenny for the first cut in June and the second cut in August.

Parents, Nicholas ( 72), -who remarkably has been farming all his life despite losing most of one arm when he was hit by a plough while sleeping in a meadow when he was only two years of age - and Noreen (62) don't have to do any texting when it comes to the third annual family get together, the Christmas dinner.

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This year Ciaran (28), a construction manager in Qatar, had to cry off because he had visitors and Noel (32), the lad in Australia, couldn't make it home for the start date but promised to be in the fields next August.

"We had a very good first cut this year which averaged 16 tonnes an acre across the farm and we were very happy with the Tipperary Grass which was used to reseed the land this year," says Mary.

The actual week's work was carried out with military precision.

Liam, the boss, manned the pit; Larry, the civil engineer in Dublin was on the harvester; Harry, James and Mary herself took care of the lifting with farmhand, Pat Cooney, while dad Nicholas supervised the cattle herding on the farm throughout this flat-out activity and mum Noreen took command of the milking parlour.

Not to be left out, sister Claire, a teacher in Portlaoise, 'woman-ed' the kitchen to keep the team well provisioned, while the "wives of the lads, who we called the (silage) widows, looked on with their kids," quips Mary.

These silage cut reunions have been going on as long as Mary can remember.

"Since the first of the lads left the farm it just became normal for him and then the others to return home at cutting time and the tradition just built up over the years," she says.

At the homecoming they always remember one of the younger sons, Nicky, who was tragically killed in a traffic accident when he was in his early twenties.

So I ask Mary, who is currently working on IFAC seminars on land partnerships and taxation - "as well as all the other work" - if she ever intends to buy a small holding and go back into farming herself.

"Land is very dear", she replies "maybe if I win the Lotto. I really love farming."

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