Farm Ireland

Tuesday 24 April 2018

Back on track five years after a near-fatal farmyard accident

Laois farmer had to put his business plans on hold after sustaining serious head injuries

Start-up: Dominic Leonard is launching his own on-farm shop to sell organic beef and other organic produce
Start-up: Dominic Leonard is launching his own on-farm shop to sell organic beef and other organic produce
Louise Hogan

Louise Hogan

Just five years after a near fatal farm accident Dominic Leonard is pressing ahead with an on-farm shop to sell their organic produce direct to customers

"I was very lucky, lets be honest," he said looking back at the 2010 accident which saw him rushed to Beaumont Hospital before moving on to the National Rehabilitation Hospital at Dun Laoghaire for recuperation.

"I've no memory - head injuries do that to you. We think I was probably trying to tag a calf, and I was taking a risk with a nice quiet cow who turned out not to be so quiet. Basically, it pushed me into a wall and I cracked my skull."

Now, the father-of-three who runs Castlewood Organic Farm and shop, near Durrow in Co Laois,with his wife Alison Duck, is extremely cautious around the cows and calves and urges others to do the same.

"The cow now is completely separate if I'm doing anything to a calf," said the suckler and sheep farmer, as he hosted a gathering of dozens of farmers as part of a Leitrim Organic Farmers Co-op and Slaney Foods farm walk. "It is all about safety now."

At the time, Dominic had been planning to open up a farm shop to sell everything from their organic beef and lamb to homemade biscuits.

However, the accident meant this was put on hold but they pressed ahead and opened it in recent months with funding from Leader.

"It was a long time in the offing. I got planning permission in 2010 and then it had to be shelved for a couple of years after I nearly died," he said.

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With 504 new entrants to the Organic Farming Scheme, the farmer said his key message for farmers is to establish their market.

"Organise a market, make sure you can sell your product as organic.

"It is all very well going into organic and there is an increased payment and it is all very nice.

"But at the end of the day if you can't sell your product as organic then what is the point," he said.

"I wouldn't say that doing organic is particularly more profitable but for a lot of farmers it can be.

"You have to be very good," he said.

The marketing of organic beef was a key issue highlighted at the farm walk.

John Brennan, manager of the Leitrim Organic Co-op, which supplies organic animals to Slaney Foods, pointed out the sector had until May 2017 to plan for a huge influx of cattle, with a two-year conversion underway for new entrants.

"We're going to see those cattle coming out in two years time - it would appear from now until next year we might have a shortage of stock," he said, adding many heifer weanlings had been killed for the veal trade in recent years.

"Eventually we'll be at the stage where we have a lot of extra stock. While the new regime with the organic payments is very welcome it is only half the story," he said.

Meanwhile, Dominic's farm carries 130 ewes and a suckler herd of 30 cows which he is working on building up.

The farmer grows a high protein combi-crop for feed, including a wheat and pea mix, and a separate oats, barley and pea mix.

However, he added that it was unfortunate that there was only one large processor dealing with organic lamb and it had been an abysmal few years for the market.

"There is an awful lot of organic lamb sold into the conventional system - it must be at least 50pc of organic sheep end up in conventional," he said.

He pointed out the distance to bring the lamb for processing may prove too costly for many and result in some not going into the market to be sold under the organic label.

Indo Farming