My Week: Michael Keaveny talks to Lisa O'Sullivan
Lisa O’Sullivan has a real passion for farming, in particular the rare Irish breed of Droimeann cattle.
“I’m working part-time off the farm at the minute. If I could farm full-time I would, but in these times that’s not easy, so I need another income stream,” she says.
Based in Killorglin, about 20km west of Killarney, Linda’s mother’s farm was transferred to her in 2013 when she was just 24.
“We have suckler cows, which are mostly Droimeann cattle as well as a few shorthorns and about 60 Scotch ewes,” she says.
Lisa got her love of Droimeann cattle from her father Dan, who was instrumental in helping save the breed, which almost died out due to the introduction of Charolais and other continental breeds in the 1960s.
““The Droimeann are my main priority. My father would have been very aware of them growing up,” she says. “Big Bertha, the oldest cow in the world, a Droimeann, was bred in Sneem, not far from where he grew up. He bought a daughter of hers and got a bull somewhere else and was able to start breeding Droimeann cattle in the mid-90s.
“Other breeders from Kerry, Cork and Limerick and a few others from around Ireland started breeding Droimeann cattle at that time.
“They started working with Paul Flynn from Weatherbys Scientific to verify they were Droimeann. Initially people thought they were a cross bred of the Irish Moiled because they looked very similar, but they were able to confirm they were pure-bred Droimeann cattle.
“Dad built up his numbers and sourced bulls from other people who were interested in them.”
Growing up around the cattle instilled a lifelong love for them in Lisa.
“I was six when Dad started getting big into them, so growing up there was always Droimeann calves being born on the farm,” she says.
“They’re really good mothers, with lots of milk. We find they’re an easy breed to keep because some of our land is in rough grazing and they do well off that land. They’re also very docile with a nice temperament.”
Droimeann can also be crossed with other beef breeds to make good suckler cows.
Lisa says there is increased interest among conventional beef farmers in this approach.
“Sometimes there might be a suitable bull available to use so we crossed them with a Charolais bull and they were able to produce a good calf,” she says.
“Because they are so scarce you have to be careful of inbreeding so every so often, we skip using a Droimeann (for breeding) and they are sold in the mart as weanlings for people to fatten.
“If we’re selling a heifer or a cow that there is always good interest in them because they are known as being good mothers, and they cross well with other continental breeds.”
Lisa’s farm is split between her home farm in Killorglin and Mastergeehy in Dromid, near Waterville, where she rents land.
“In Dromid it’s quite rough and hilly. It’s mostly sheep up there, but the bull and bull calves go to Waterville,” she explains.
“They went in April this year which is a bit later than usual because the spring was so wet. The cows and heifer calves stay in Killorglin, because they can be in heat as young as five months so we don’t want any teenage pregnancies.
“They’re very fertile. The majority go back in calf straight after calving, sometimes in as little as two weeks. Even if they are out on bad land, it will only take a month for them to go back in calf.”
As well as giving her a love for cattle, Lisa’s father has also passed on a love of bees.
“My dad has kept bees for most of his life — they’re his first love,” she says. “He has a few different hives and every Sunday he goes beekeeping.
“He’s a member of a club and is trying to set people up. I have one hive myself and am trying to learn more about it under Dad’s guidance. I’m interested in it, but it’s not something you pick up overnight. Dad has been doing it for over 40 years and is still picking up new stuff about it, so I’m trying to learn as much as I can from him.”