Michael G Phelan says their easy calving and easy fleshing bring back repeat buyers – and his pedigree Kerry Hill sheep are also selling well
Laois farmer Michael G Phelan was busy last week, between the Ploughing Championship taking place nearby and selling 15 ewe lambs from his pedigree Kerry Hill flock.
Michael, who also farms pedigree Angus cattle and is well-known in ploughing circles, says the past several months have been good farm-wise.
“It’s gotten quieter now on the farm front due to all the silage and corn being cut thanks to the good weather we’ve had,” he says. “There are still callers looking to buy some of the lambs, which is always good.
“I normally help out at the Ploughing too when it comes to trying to organise parking for the thousands of people who attend each day.”
Farming outside Ballacolla on the home farm, he started young after his father passed away when he was three. “So I became a farmer after leaving school early, around 14 years old.”
After milking cows until 1997, he switched over to sucklers and pedigree breeding.
“I always had an Angus bull even with the dairy operation and I took up the Angus breed and have been at it ever since,” he says.
Today, he has 25 pure-bred Angus cows and all the followers.
Michael likes them as they are easy calving and easy fleshing.
“You can finish them much quicker than other breeds,” he says. “And there’s good demand for them — with the amount of dairy men around me I get repeat buyers.”
Farming with his dog Teddy, he says there is also a great trade for his Kerry Hill sheep, as there aren’t too many of them in the country.
Last week he sold all the ewe lambs from the house, to repeat buyers from as far away as Shannonbridge and Blessington.
“The Kerry Hill sheep stand out for their colour, with a white face, black around the eyes and a black nose and ears,” he says. “They are a lovely marked sheep.
“I bought my first ones in Portumna years ago and then brought in a ram from Wales a few years after to try to improve them.”
The breed, which originates from a small region called Kerry in Wales, are “great little mothers and easy lambing”.
“They are like the Angus cattle,” he says.
Michael is also chairman of Woodenbridge Paddlers Association, a group that has been working on plans for a 14km long water facility in Co Laois. However, those plans have sprung a leak due the rare pearl mussel.
The Erkina Blueway, which will connect the towns of Rathdowney and Durrow, can be used by small boats and canoes along with walking and cycling trails on the river banks.
Works involved include river management, the erection of information signs, access and egress points and upgrading of parking for cars — all of which has been granted by Laois County Council.
However, a small number of the freshwater pearl mussels have been found upstream from Durrow village which has stopped a kilometre-long length of the Blueway.
According to Michael, work on the project has been going on for close to 30 years in various forms, but began in earnest in 2009.
“We’ve been working alongside Blueways Ireland, Fisheries Ireland, the local authority, Birdwatch Ireland and the National Parks and Wildlife Service Ireland,” he says. “The project has received huge encouragement by so many organisations and agencies along with local businesses.
“Now these pearl mussels, which are very small in number, have been found along a kilometre or slightly more stretch of the river which is making this part of Blueway impassable. The problem is centred around the in-stream work.
“Ways around this problem are being explored and we’ve spent €20,000 on surveys, but until we know what’s happening then there’s no point in placing signage etc along the route.
“A lot of potential-creating businesses such as canoe and leisure hire and cafés are being hampered.”
Several local politicians have been involved in the project, along with Junior Finance Minister Seán Fleming, who addressed the issue of pearl mussels in the Dáil.
Michael says the situation is “frustrating as there is so much tourism potential here due to the river and the amenities it can provide.
“So many businesses in the area have helped out financially in a bid to bring this project to fruition. There were a lot of visitors here in June, July and August and that needs to be harnessed even more.
“If we hadn’t met with the issue around the pearl mussels then the entire project would have been finished, I believe, last year.”