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Monday 18 June 2018

'I don't think there is enough money in straight farming' - Seventh generation farmer on diversifying her suckler farm

Margaret Edgill runs Mount Briscoe farm near Daingean in Co Offaly
Margaret Edgill runs Mount Briscoe farm near Daingean in Co Offaly

Eoghan MacConnell

A seventh generation farmer who runs an organic beef suckler farm believes diversification is essential to the survival of farms.  

Margaret Edgill runs Mount Briscoe farm near Daingean in Co Offaly. Set on 32 hectares of pastureland with 15 hectares of woodland, the farm primarily produces organic Hereford beef.

An old estate which would once have extended far beyond the present farm, Mount Briscoe has remained in the same family since the 16th Century.  

Margaret, who previously worked in theatre and event management, took over from her parents having returned to the farm after her mother took ill in 2012. Since returning, she has invested in rare Irish Moiled Cattle and also breeds Irish Draught Horses. 

Spring calves at Mount Briscoe
Spring calves at Mount Briscoe

Margaret produces wooden carving boards, sloe and crab apple jelly, provides glamping, Airbnb, offers WWOOFERS (Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms) places and runs a Rare and Traditional Breeds Show at the farm.

 “The reason for my diversification is because I don’t think there is enough money in straight farming,” she explained, adding that “we have to start thinking outside the box.”

Mt B Rare Breed Show Shorthorn Breeder Tommy Staunton Reserve Champion Judge Percy Chadwick
Mt B Rare Breed Show Shorthorn Breeder Tommy Staunton Reserve Champion Judge Percy Chadwick

Mount Briscoe has been an organic farm since 1998 when it was licenced by the Irish Organic Farmers & Growers Association (IOFGA). “I have inherited what was their system and I have kept it their system,” Margaret explained.

A firm advocate of traditional and organic, Margaret said “to me it is labour intensive but I don’t mind because I agree with it.” She says that “for the longterm good of the argi-sector I think the whole of Ireland should be organic.” 

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“What I have brought to the table is that I also breed Irish Draught Horses and I got into Moiled about two years ago,” she remarked.

Keeping show quality stock is something for a tradition for the Edgill family, who for generations were noted breeders of prize winning bulls and quality horses.  Margaret’s interest in Moiled cattle led to her decision to hold the a Rare and Traditional Breeds Show at the farm.

Daught horse at Mount Briscoe
Daught horse at Mount Briscoe

She had brought her cattle to shows in Donegal, Wexford and Tullamore-where she won Breed Champion- before deciding, “why not put on our own show and that was it. It wasn’t any more complex than that,” she recalled. 

She likes Irish Moiled Cattle because they are rare, for their docile temperament but also for the flavour of their meat. Margaret recently sold a culled cow carcass to two restaurants in Dublin. “They just loved it,” she explained, they “were blown away.” 

Mt Briscoe range of bread and cheese boards
Mt Briscoe range of bread and cheese boards

Despite the great reaction, Margaret isn’t in a position to supply more Irish Moiled beef as she is still building up her own stock. “The end game would be that people have to eat them,” she pointed out.

She said “last year there was a very good turnout of Moilies at show and the quality is improving.”

Mount Briscoe Airbnb
Mount Briscoe Airbnb

It's a niche market and Margaret said "I need to be reimbursed for investing in something that isn't mainstream."  

Aside from producing beef, Mount Briscoe is also home to a four acre orchard and has recently began supplying timber products. The new range of bread and cheese boards came about following ex Hurricane Ophelia, when around 15 trees came down.

Margaret said the wooden chopping boards, toaster racks and other items are made from naturally fallen oak, cherry and crab apple timber. She sells the items through markets where she also sells her own sloe and crab apple jelly from the farm.

Margaret is constantly improving the ever evolving farm. She is currently working on an old walled garden and out buildings which had fallen into disrepair. She plans to turn the space into a productive kitchen garden.

The work is ongoing but Margaret explained that “I have the plans all drawn up. I had a very good WWOOFER who had just done a masters in organic horticulture.”     

Margaret said the farm welcomes WWOOFERs and has them staying all year round. They are mainly European, but Margaret has also had visitors from New Zealand and Singapore. She said very few WWOOFERs are from farming backgrounds.

Margaret says her parents who are now 82 and 76 years old, particularly enjoy having the WWOOFERs around the farm as they enjoy being around the younger generation. 

Mount Briscoe also welcomes glamping and Airbnb visitors. The glampers stay in a shepherd’s hut which was made by one of Margaret’s friends last year.

She enjoys having guests at the farm and believes it’s an important experience both for the guests, who can witness a real working farm and for farmers, as she says that farming can be a lonely job.

“I am passionate about the farm and the aesthetics of the farm and I think there is a lot to offer people,” she explained. “Service and hospitality are the kind of things I enjoy,” she added.  Margaret plans to keep improving the farm. "Five years from now it  will bee a very different place," she predicted. 

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