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Meet the family who have opened their gates to the nation for Big Week on the Farm


The Shalvey family, Geraldine, Colm, Aoife, Enda and Patrick with dog Nala on their farm at Maudabawn, Co Cavan. Photo: Lorraine Teevan

The Shalvey family, Geraldine, Colm, Aoife, Enda and Patrick with dog Nala on their farm at Maudabawn, Co Cavan. Photo: Lorraine Teevan

The Shalvey family, Geraldine, Colm, Aoife, Enda and Patrick with dog Nala on their farm at Maudabawn, Co Cavan. Photo: Lorraine Teevan

There are 10 cows still to calve on Patrick Shalvey's farm in Co Cavan and the dairy man is crossing his fingers and toes that one of them will have the good sense to bring a new Friesian into the world while RTÉ is filming the Big Week on the Farm programme next week.

The show's producers are hoping to feature a live calf birth during next week's series of one-hour live programmes from Patrick's 100-acre dairy farm in Cootehill, and they are praying that one of his 65 Friesians will oblige.

"I think we might get lucky but the film crew were down last week seeing if they could record a birth and nothing happened all day, and then three calves were born during the night just after they left the farm," Patrick tells the Farming Independent.

Ever since the picturesque Shalvey farm was selected by programme makers, Agtel, at the beginning of February, things have been turned upside down, what with sets being constructed, producers and reporters roaming the land for the best locations and drones flying overhead filming the wildlife and lake life.

"My Teagasc adviser, Donnie Kennedy, in Cavan, was asked by the producers for a suitable farm to film the show on and he sent my name in. Their researchers came down in January to see the place and in February, after I had just passed my herd test, we got the news that the show was going to be made in Cootehill," Patrick explains.

"It has been extraordinary ever since. There have been loads of people down to the farm and loads of callers and well-wishers. But some tasks have been put on the long finger. You can't smell up the yard with slurry when there are so many people around, but that's no bother because the family are having a great time."

The family - mother Geraldine, a teacher at the local national school; sons Enda, who is in his second year of agricultural studies at UCD, and Cillian, who is facing into his Leaving Cert; and daughter Aoife, who is in transition year - are enjoying the experience of their farm by the lakes being returned into a TV studio for the duration of Big Week.

"It's been a great family experience, and the kids, who are normally rebelling all the time, are having a great time joining in," Patrick says.

"Joining in" means joining in on the farm. One of the features of this year's series of programmes is a science-based study on whether cows milk better to music, so the Friesians can look forward to various types of musicality filling the dairy while Patrick is applying his magic at milking time.

Over the five days, the cows will enjoy a classical harpist, a DJ, a lilter and Marty Mone singing his hit Hit the Diff to assist their flows, and on the final day they will be assisted in their labours by Patrick's daughter, Aoife, with a tune from La La Land.

This could be the highlight of the musical entertainment for the herd, as Aoife is no amateur at this singing business, having recently been selected to perform in this autumn's production of Les Misérables at the Helix theatre in Dublin.

"I don't know if I will have to give the cows something to get them through this but they say cows like music. It apparently calms them down," Patrick says; Agtel producer John Davy is insistent (tongue firmly in cheek) that it is important to find out which type of milky music helps a herd of Friesians to yield the most.

Then there is the attempt at the world record for sausage making, which will take place on a newly constructed facility in one of the outbuildings on the farm - and, more importantly, an attempt at a world record for sausage eating the following day.

On this one, Patrick claims a pass. "I'll sit that one out. It's Lent; I think I'll ask for a derogation," he says.

But Patrick is up for a record attempt at reverse tractor driving and hopes to have his name etched in the Guinness Book of Records by driving backwards from Virginia to Cavan - a good 20 kilometres, well beyond the current mark in this esoteric sport.

"I did a lot of ploughing in my 20s with my neighbour, Mickey Lynch - you featured him in the Farming Independent last year as the oldest man to buy a new tractor in Ireland. But I am in my 50s now and I am expecting to have an awful crick in my neck by the time this tractor drive is over," Patrick says.

All in all, Patrick believes it is going to be a great show and when it is over, he will turn his thoughts to the delayed farm work: slurry, field improvements, fertiliser, silage and then the milk price from Maudabawn - an independent co-op and affiliate of Monaghan Co-Op.

"Things are running a little late but the weather hasn't been great and, anyway, it looks like the milk price is improving this year. No point in fretting," Patrick says as he wonders what the Big Week are now up to in his outhouses.

Indo Farming