'They are hardy animals who love the mountains': Donegal farmer switch from continentals to Black Galloways

My week: Sean Martin

Sean Martin breeds light-footed Black Galloways on the Bluestack Mountains in Donegal. Photo: Clive Wasson
Sean Martin breeds light-footed Black Galloways on the Bluestack Mountains in Donegal. Photo: Clive Wasson

Ken Whelan

Seven years ago Sean Martin faced a farming dilemma. Should he continue with a Charolais and Simmental herd on his 60-acre farm near Lough Eske outside Donegal town or develop a Black Galloways herd on the substantial commonage he had in the nearby Bluestack mountains.

It was a choice, in Sean's view, between rearing the heavy-footed breeds on the weather-dependent lowlands or using the light-footed Galloways which thrive on hilly ground. There was a third option - get into sheep - but the 58-year-old was dead set against that idea.

"I heard the Galloways were ideal for mountain rearing and as I had substantial commonage in the Bluestacks and didn't want to go the sheep route I started the research work.

"I read a feature in the Farming Independent about a Tipperary farmer - Joe Condon who developed a Galloways herd and rural development specialist Oliver Moore - so I contacted them. They were very helpful and they mentored me and that clinched the matter. I was going to rear the black lads," Sean recalls.

He sourced his initial stock - 10 pure-bred heifers from a farmer in Northern Ireland and he then linked up on the breeding side with the Douglas brothers, established Galloways men in nearby Castlederg, to get the new enterprise up and running.

Sean hasn't regretted his decision.

"They are a hardy animal who love the mountains and they are easy to handle. They are fed hay and straw from the home farm but they also clear the mountains of everything, including heather. I have no regrets."

The next stage in what Sean calls his '2020 plan' is to increase the herd to around 40 head and then begin processing his beef, on farm, for sale at the local farmer markets and retail outlets.

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"I have about 10 names in my mind for the beef which we will process on the farm but haven't decided on it yet. I'll give you a call when I do, but I don't think it will be Bluestack steaks," Sean laughs.

Sean is married to Anne Marie, a special needs assistant working in Donegal town, and the couple have three adult children: Karen (29) who works with the Magee clothing firm locally; Jason (26) who has taken the "techy road" and works with Pramarica in Letterkenny and Daniel (22) who is currently studying with the local National Learning Network.

Sean took over the family farm from his dad, John, in 1995. He had previously worked as a barman locally in Donegal and sometimes in Dublin, dispensing the drinks in the city's "early houses".

With everything now on an onwards and upwards footing with the Galloways, the one thing he would like Minister Michael Creed to do for the hill sector is to encourage farmers to run more cattle on the country's uplands.

He says the uplands are an underused resource when it comes to cattle and it is something he intends to pursue through his farm activism with the INHFA.

"I heard recently that the department has launched a pilot scheme in the Wicklow uplands to increase the cattle population there and I hope this scheme is expanded nationwide," he says.

Off farm, Sean's main interest lies with the fortunes and misfortunes of the Donegal senior GAA footballers and as we spoke it was obvious that he was apprehensive about Sunday's National Football League clash with Mayo. Donegal slipped from Division One as a result of that game, following the draw with Mayo.

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