Farm Ireland

Saturday 23 March 2019

Are we losing traditional sheep farming skills?

Mart manager and local politician Dan McCarthy.
Mart manager and local politician Dan McCarthy.

Farmers must continue to support their local marts which are the lifeblood of rural communities, says mart manager and local politician Dan McCarthy.

Since taking over at the helm of Kenmare Mart, Co Kerry in 2004, the part-time sheep farmer has expanded the mart's trade and also helped turn it in to a community amenity.

Apart from providing space for new businesses including a tyre centre and veterinary products company, it also hosts a 'Men's Shed' and social events.

Mr McCarthy's vision for the mart made headlines two years ago when he offered out the premises as wedding venue with a difference.

"Unfortunately we've had no wedding yet but hopefully our day will come," he told last week's Teagasc Hill Sheep Conference.

Social thing

"It is a kind of a meeting place as well a social thing as much as anything," he adds about the mart, which services a large catchment area across south Kerry and west Cork.

"We pride ourselves on the service that we provide to farmers and the rural community. I am always available to meet or speak to customers seven days a week."

When Mr McCarthy (pictured) took over as mart manager in 2004, it was selling approximately 25,000 sheep a year and around 5,000 cattle.

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Last year's figures were 54,500 sheep and 8,500 cattle.

The mart has two full-time and 16 part-time staff. They host the ram sales on Friday evenings as it suits part-time farmers.

However, due to the level of numbers, the weekly sheep sale starts at 10am every Monday from July until Christmas and fortnightly after that, while the cattle sale takes place every Thursday.

Mr McCarthy has also embraced Facebook and posts a two-minute mart report online after each sale.

But he is concerned that some of the traditional sheep farming skills are being lost.

"I would worry that some of the skills, simple ones like how to train a sheepdog, will be lost as the older generation retire from hill sheep farming," he said.

But neither the Department of Agriculture nor Teagasc might agree with his top tip on the most important item for a sheep farmer.

Digging in the pocket, he produces the answer - a piece of baling twine.

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