Farm Ireland

Thursday 22 February 2018

'Invaluable book a must-read for farmers and farm families'

A Year on our Farm

Jim O'Brien

Jim O'Brien

'A year on our Farm' is a beautiful book by Ann Talbot and her husband Robin. It tells the real story of modern Irish farming in a practical, engaging and heart-warming fashion.

Illustrated with excellent photographs, taken by the author, the book traces a year in the life of the Talbot farm at Coole, Ballacolla, Co Laois. Month-by-month, it takes the reader through what happens on the farm from the arrival of Whooper swans to the harvesting of the grain and the departure of the year's stock to the factory or finishing farm.

The book begins with a description of the farm at Coole, detailing its size, layout and topography.

A lovely hand-drawn map shows how the farm is nestled between the rivers Erkina and Gully. It gives the names of townlands, the natural and built features on the holding, including a man-made nature sanctuary at Loughabarra charmingly known to the children as 'The Wild Place'.

From the introduction the reader feels at home at Coole and while there is a constant underlying thread of love for the place and the way of life, the book details the hard facts of the farming business. With disarming clarity the author outlines much of the science behind successful, modern farming.

After landing on the farm in January in the company of the wonderfully photographed Whoopers, Ann takes us straight to business and introduces their preferred breed of stock; calves from a Belgian Blue bull and a Limousin cow.

Ann describes Belgian Blues as the "ultimate muscle-men and women". "Because they have natural gene mutation known as double muscling," she explains, "(their) muscle fibres are associated with an increased ability to convert feed into lean muscle. The meat has a lower fat content making it highly desirable to the modern health-conscious consumer."

The Limousin cow is preferred "because they make the best mothers".

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"They have a good ability to calve unassisted, they bond quickly with their calves and they produce enough milk to rear them well."

The book is full of this kind of practical and solid information. Robin Talbot emerges as a meticulous farmer but also an inveterate researcher and record keeper, a major advantage given the demands of 21st-century farming.

Something that puzzles and exercises many non-farmers is the need for farm subsidies. In a piece of simple mathematics Ann lays out the case for subsidies as she details what it costs the Talbots to produce a kilo of beef. She outlines the purchase price, maintenance costs, feed costs, veterinary costs and cull value of the stock bull. She does the same for the cow and goes on to detail the costs of rearing the calf. All in all it currently costs €3.70 to produce a kilo of beef at Coole; meanwhile, the beef factory pays the Talbots €3.60/kg, a shortfall of 10c per kilo.

"Without the Single Farm Payment we would have no income," Ann concludes bluntly.

A Year on our Farm is not just about the Talbots, Ann profiles a wide range of people who come through the farm gate throughout the year to provide services to the business.

Along with their full-time farm worker, Joe Hyland, the providers include, among others, vets, the animal nutritionist, contractors, the mechanic and Teagasc advisor.

The profiles are beautifully drawn and also give an indication of the kind of employment a farm like Coole supports.

The Talbots also entertain a wide range of visitors from home and abroad; members of Robin's farmer discussion group, students, farmers and experts who come to look and learn.

Above all, Coole is a family farm and the book is also about the family.

It includes a history of the Talbots and references to Ann's family, the Fitzgeralds from Ardagh in west Limerick. She writes touchingly about their loss at birth of their infant daughter, Rachel, and the joy that their other daughters, Sarah and Ruth, bring to them.


In a very honest piece Ann details the challenge faced by a young bride or groom moving into a farm to live with the in-laws. In a practical manner she recounts the sensible accommodation reached with her mother-in-law, Pam.

There are beautiful pictures and descriptions of the wild flora and fauna and of the various features of archaeological and architectural interest on the 580ac holding. There are also lovely stories of the pets and horses that have come and gone and some useful recipes and tips for inside and outside the farm door.

This book is a must-read for farmers, farm families, consumers, non-farmers, owners of small businesses, the heads of households, primary school students, secondary students, students of agriculture, politicians, policy makers, public servants and social historians.

It makes an invaluable contribution to our understanding and appreciation of farming and farm families in an informative, educational, inspiring and delightful way.

* A Year on our Farm is available at Easons of Portlaoise and at local bookshops for €18.99. It is available online from at €17.99 plus postage of €7 (it weighs 0.5kg) and can be bought at the Farming Independent stand at the Ploughing Championships.

Irish Independent