The demands of combining a fulltime job with beef farming have seen Offaly farmer Mike Kenny invest in cattle housing and handling facilities designed specifically for a one-man operation
Making life easier for himself was the key motivation behind Mike Kenny's decision to invest in a state-of-the-art cattle shed.
He had been planning the new shed and handling system for several years, after returning from college in Waterford when he decided to focus the farm business on beef.
"We used to keep 30 acres of tillage, but there has been very little money out of tillage in the last few years,” says Mike, who farms in Leamore, near Tullamore. “At least with cattle, you can have cashflow a lot handier."
While he has a small suckler herd, Mike plans to focus on drystock in the coming years, as he is also working full-time as manager of Midland Veterinary in Tullamore.
"I'm down to 13 suckler cows. I do like them, but I'd say in the next few years I will be out of them. I just don't have time to be watching them calving. You have to be there. It's only potluck really that they are calving ok. It's all about keeping the system simple here," he says.
Mike buys in about 80 store heifers between March and August, finishing them to beef, as well as finishing about 60-70 bulls.
He buys mostly Charolais and Limousin bred cattle, explaining that while he doesn't buy “the real fancy ones”, he likes “something that will go on”.
Mike has been steadily building the stock numbers up on the farm and started planning the new shed five years ago.
"We were going to do a shed in 2016 and 2017. I had it in my head and finance secured. Then I got a bit nervous with the way beef was going and held off.
"Then, about 12 months ago, I said to myself I might as well make life a little bit easier and make the most of the farm at the same time," he says.
The three-bay, back-to-back slatted shed consists of a 20ft passageway, 16ft 6in slats each side and an 8ft deep tank. It will easily hold about 100 store cattle.
Construction began last March, but the project was significantly delayed by the Covid lockdowns.
"We just had the tank dug out when the lockdown was announced. It ended up going on all year, and in the end, it didn't get finished until the week before Christmas. It’s thanks to my partner Rachel, my parents and all the companies involved that we go through despite all the starting and stopping."
The shed and cattle handling system is designed to enable safe handling of cattle by someone working on their own.
And after only a month, Mike says he is already seeing the benefits of the new set-up: "Before you'd be putting things on the long figure. You'd be thinking about dosing cattle and putting it off as you'd have to organise someone to be with you.
"I wanted to make sure I did this job right as I won't be doing it again. It's not feasible after a day’s work to be facing out in the evening to a rough set-up for feeding and looking after cattle.”