Given the poor returns across different sectors many farmers now need different income streams to support themselves. South Kilkenny farmer Adrian Hayden is no different to this.
The Graignamanagh man is a sheep farmer, is a an experienced sheep shearer, has a small suckler enterprise and also helps his father Pat who is a sheep and dairy farmer.
“Between myself and my father we have 400 ewes on two separate holdings. We have two different herd numbers. I have 150 ewes and he has another 250. I bought my own farm 20 years ago, it’s only a quarter of a mile from my home yard.
There’s 12 acres on it and a shed where I can store bales as well as keep cattle and sheep in it. I used to have 15 sucklers, but I reduced this down to 7 because although my father is still fit and active he is getting older so I work between the two farms."
Both Adrian and Pat farm the Borris ewe, a breed traditionally found in the Carlow Kilkenny area.
“The Borris ewe is bred from the Suffolk ram and Cheviot ewe”, Adrian says. The cheviot ewe is a strong, hardy ewe, with good milk and is also a good mother and the sufflolk ram is also hardy and gives excellent shape so it’s a really good breed."
Adrian grazes his sheep on commonage on Brandon Hill near the Kilkenny/ Carlow border, which at 515m is the highest point in Kilkenny.
“I graze the sheep on commonage around Brandon Hill grazing land and 15 farmers graze our sheep on it. Every individual farmer has shares on it. Our ewes and lambs go to the commonage in June and they come off it the end of July or start of August for a week to wean the lambs.
The best of my lambs go to Borris Ewe Sale to be sold and the rest of them are go to the factory. The ewes stay out until October when they are brought in for the ram.
I sent the first of the lambs to the factory last week and they averaged around €106, which is an ok price. The weight limits change at different times throughout the year but they are killed between 19-21kg, depending on the weight limit that has been set by the factory.
The younger a lamb is the better it will kill out but as they get older they don’t kill out as much so they allow the weights to increase.”
As well as being a sheep farmer Adrian also shears sheep for farmers in his area.
“I do a bit a shearing I normally do it in may and June. There’s only a small bit to do now doing a few ewe lambs. I shear for about 20 farmers, it’s a full days work depending on the size of the farmer.
Some farmers only have 50 sheep and that only takes a few hours but if they have 300 sheep it can take up to two days."
With wool prices near record low levels, Adrian says farmers must now contend with the problem of what to do with their wool.
“A lot of farmers aren’t happy with the price of wool these days. They’re only getting 5c-15c a kilo so it isn’t even covering the cost of shearing. It’s a good product they should be able to find a market for it.
Now they are left holding on to it and they don’t know what to do with it. It won’t burn, it’s hard to store because it gets damp very easily, it’s like a sponge it soaks up water very easily, then it goes all brown and musty.
Farmers don’t have many suitable places to store it because they generally need all the sheds for lambing or calving when the time comes”.
Adrian is also heavily involved in the Borris Ewe and Lamb sale which is run every year in early August and features farmers from around the region selling the Borris breed of sheep.
“I’m part of the Borris ewe sale committee. I was the assistant secretary for a few years andwas promoted to the secretary this year. It is run in conjunction with Leinster Marts in Borris.
There was a lot of work in getting the sale dates organised. It used to be on a Thursday, but we had to switch it to Saturday because it suits part time farmers better.
We had great sale, we had over 90% clearance rate. Hogget ewes got between €200-€230 for the majority of them and we got €270 for a really top class ewe. We were dreading every day that it would be cancelled in the build-up, because we had buyers coming from all over Ireland including Northern Ireland.”
As well as being a sheep farmer Adrian also has several sucklers which he keeps on his home farm, although he admits that sucklers aren’t a lucrative type of farming, they are a good way to keep bills paid.
“I have limousines and Charolais sucklers bred to simmental bull. I had around 15 a few years ago but I reduced it to seven recently. It’s not very profitable but I’ll probably stick at it for another few years because when you sell them you have money to pay your bills.”
While it seems like the obvious thing to do is to take over his father’s dairy farm, the small nature of the farm makes it difficult for Adrian to see a full time future in dairy farming.
“My father milks 35 British freisans, I don’t know if I’ll stick with it in the future. We only have a small herd. We only have 27 acres of a milking platform and the rest of the land is away from the house, but there is no land around us that we can add to the platform so it’s hard to know what to do.”
However, as cattle prices aren’t good it makes it difficult for Adrian to decide on which enterprise to focus on.
"We’re not getting paid for our cattle in the factory, they’re only getting around €3.70/kg, so it’s hard to know just which one we should stick at. Every system has its positives and negatives. I’m kept busy with everything but it’s all I’ve ever known so I don’t mind it.”