Farm Ireland
Independent.ie

Thursday 26 April 2018

On the pig's back - the farm-gate butcher who also plays a viking

Clive Clarke has built up the Ashgate Farm business from the family’s holding in Dunkerrin, Co Offaly. Photo: Kevin Byrne
Clive Clarke has built up the Ashgate Farm business from the family’s holding in Dunkerrin, Co Offaly. Photo: Kevin Byrne
Jim O'Brien

Jim O'Brien

It was a fine crisp afternoon in the midlands as I made my way from the old N7 at Dunkerrin in Co Offaly to the village of Barna and some lovely rolling countryside on the Offaly and Tipperary border.

When I get to Ashgate Farm, Clive Clarke is in his boning room, slicing meat for the freezer. His children Abigail and Zack lead the way.

The Offaly butcher has a number of strings to his bow, strings that include working as an extra on the TV series, Vikings.

As soon as I meet him I can see why the casting crew for Vikings signed him up. His long hair is tied into a neat ponytail and his equally long beard is tied in a ponytail at the end.

"My story is very simple," he says. "There is one farm here on 150ac with sheep and cattle, turkeys, a few hens and ducks and pigs, but there is only a living for my father.

"In 2010, I worked as a butcher in a local shop. When it closed down, my wife Shirley and I had the choice to diversify or emigrate. We chose to diversify. We decided I'd put my butchering skills to use and with fantastic assistance from the Offaly Local Development, the local Leader company, I put together a business plan and got funding.

"We kitted out this boning room and started to process our own meat and sell it."

'Ashgate Farm' developed as a farm shop and a butchering business and went from strength to strength.

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As time went on, other farmers brought their animals to be butchered and packed for deep-freezing for their own use. There are few places left to get a pig processed. "Guys are coming to me from as far away as Dungarvan, West Clare and Wicklow to have their animals processed. There is a serious shortage of butchering skills," says Clive.

For Clive the operation is ideal. "Farmers usually buy everything retail, sell everything wholesale and pay the haulage in between. Processing our own meat gives me an opportunity to get in on the act where the money is being made."

He has developed a sixth sense for that place where the money is being made, and this led him into his latest venture.

"When I sell a pig to the factory I get €120 for him. When I butcher it myself I get €300 but I knew there must be another level. I also needed to fill a vacuum in the butchering business," he said.

"May to September is very quiet because pigs are killed in October and November, the turkeys are a Christmas business and cattle and sheep are killed mainly in spring and autumn. I needed to generate income during this lull in the summer," he explains.

"That's when I hit on the idea of a pig on a spit, that was the next level I needed to take the business to, cooking and serving."

Offaly Local Development came good again with business advice, mentoring and funding and so Clive bought a spit to cook his pigs.

The gas-fired stainless steel piece of equipment is neat and easy to transport.

"The pig that was making €120 at the factory gate is now making €500 on the spit," explains Clive.

Things went so well he bought a second spit and for the summer he travels the country.

"I've been from Dublin to Dingle, to Newport in Co Mayo and Cavan. I can organise additional catering and can hire the marquee and do the full job if necessary. Essentially I cook the pig or other meat products we produce. Hotels as well as individuals and organisations also hire me. The IFA are great customers," he says.

Regulations

The barbecue year is much longer now, starting in March and ending in December - "I did my last barbecue in 2017 on December 15."

In terms of rules and regulations, Clive agrees that the food industry is heavily regulated, but in his experience it is all very manageable.

"The district Veterinary Officer is very supportive and has guided me through all the requirements," he says.

Clive is making a good living from his mix of butchering, the Ashgate Farm shop, catering and some emergency slaughter. Not to mention the few bob he makes as an extra on the set of Vikings.

He is passionate about farmers making the most of the opportunities they have.

"I'm making a good living from diversifying and adding value," he says.

"We farmers need to realise that what we have is worth something and we don't have to be insulted every time we go to the market with it."

'My job is to look fierce and take no prisoners- a bit like butchering'

Clive Clarke is not one to turn down an opportunity, no matter what shape it takes.

In his day he has worked with the ESB, in retail and in recent times added film to his CV. He works as an extra on the historical drama TV series Vikings.

stexploits of Ragnar Lothbrok, a farmer who organised and led the earliest Viking raids on England, rising to become a Scandinavian king in the early 9th century.

"A friend of mine wanted to audition as an extra for the series but he had no way of getting there, so I said I'd drive him and audition for the craic. I got the gig and he didn't.

"They needed big, severe-looking lads - I think my mate was too pretty for them."

Filming takes up about 20 days a year and operates on an 'on-call' basis. While not on film-star wages, Clive enjoys the experience.

"You get fed and watered and we are well looked after while shooting. I've done all of season five and I'm now working on season six. It's a great experience, and very interesting to see how these things are made. It's also a change from the day job. I play a Viking warrior."

He adds: "My job is to look fierce and take no prisoners, a bit like butchering, I suppose."


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