Farm Ireland

Tuesday 20 March 2018

'If you had to buy anything in, you were considered a bad farmer'

Derek Kelly
Derek Kelly

The big change in direction for the Kellys came when the recession took hold and their Moon Shine organic yoghurt and cream business was struggling as it tried to compete against the bigger co-ops.

They faced an uphill battle keeping on top of regulations, while the costs of testing raw produce was a whopping €2,000 a quarter.

Gerry recalls that their son Derek (30) told them he wanted to take over the farm in the future but he didn't want to be completely tied to the farm by milking cows.

However, Gerry says after discussing it they reverted to organic beef and tillage farming and they're all "happy" with the move.

Now, they've 44 calves on their 20 milky Rotbunt-cross and Shorthorn-cross cows while a ­Hereford bull services the herd.

"We'd winter at least 25-30 calves," explains Gerry. "We buy in the calves for doubling up. It is hard to get them in the springtime."

He says they travel the roads of Ireland looking for calves from organic herds, and buy whatever is ­available be it heifers or bulls.

Derek (inset) explains they try and keep the calving pattern tight, with all bar one calved in four weeks to ensure they can put additional calves on the cows. He says they pay from €150 to €350 depending on the calves.

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Gerry says they are happy with the ­animals they produce off their ­former dairy herd and they perform well against the beef breeds.

They fetch around €5.20/kg for the organic beef with Slaney Meats for their 300-330kg animals finished at 19 months, while they ­recently sold 15-month-old stores in Drumshambo organic mart for €3/kg and ­forward store bullocks off the farm for around €3/kg.

They produce their own straw and feed on the farm. "Long ago if you had to buy in anything you were considered to be not a good farmer," says Gerry. Derek explains they run a four year rotation with their tillage, swapping between organic seeds firth spring oats from Western Seeds and mulika wheat, before ploughing and reverting to grassland. He says they add a herb mix including chicory at around half a kg to the acre.

He says they are experimenting with more varieties of herbal lays and if they take off they'll move away from ryegrass.

He says redshank weed in the oats is their biggest problem, while they also dig up docks to try and remove them. Gerry adds: "If you let one dock grow it'll seed an acre."

They use farmyard manure for nutrients and the land hasn't seen a bag of fertiliser in 22 years.

Derek says they achieve yields from oats of 2t/ac without costly fertiliser or spray, while they get 1.9t/ac from their wheat. They use most of it for feed and the remainder is sold off farm.

The Kellys applied to the National Reserve and have just completed a farm partnership agreement.

However, Derek says other families considering it should allow time as it can be a slow process between Agriculture Department forms and the bank.

"Farming is what I really want to do - (the money) is not in it at the moment to do it full-time so I work part-time. I find that makes you more efficient with your time as well," says Derek.

"We'd like to grow more tillage and up the numbers of cows and finish our own stock. The amount of land would put the limit to that."

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