Farm Ireland

Friday 18 January 2019

'The animals were in shock - they just couldn't cope' - Wexford man on finishing 3,000 hoggets factories and coping with the weather


Mervyn Sunderland
Mervyn Sunderland

Ken Whelan

In a lifetime of farming, 71-year-old Wicklow livestock man, Mervyn Sunderland, has never seen weather have such a negative effect on stock as Storm Emma had a few weeks ago.

"The animals were in shock and upset. They just couldn't cope with it. They just gathered in huddles on the farm and didn't move.

"They even lost weight and it took them days to get over the weather. In all my years I have never seen the animals react like this to the weather," says Mervyn.

He runs a thriving livestock farm along with his brother George (67) in Redcross, Co Wicklow.

They finish around 3,000 hoggets for sale to local factories in Wexford and Kildare alongside a mixed flock of 250 sheep.

The 450 acre, heavy soiled lowland and partly hilly ground, has been run by the Sunderland family for the past 99 years.

The brothers also farm a similar area of rented land. The enterprise is self sufficient with 150ac set aside to produce feed for the animals.

With the weather slowly easing on the east coast, it is back to business at Redcross this week after the weekend's snowfalls.

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Mervyn was also dealing with the avalanche of red tape which is part and parcel of day-to-day farming.

Red tape to Mervyn is like a red rag to a bull.

"The paperwork just goes on and on and it takes up so much time. I was talking about this to a neighbour the other day and I told him that 15 years ago we could load 150 hoggets on to the farm's old livestock lorry in about two hours and then it was off with us to the factories.

"Today, what with checking tags, filling out forms, and complying with the dirty sheep regulations, you would be lucky to load 60 animals in three and a half hours.

"And you should try identifying the 12-digit tag numbers on sheep and cattle, especially when the animals involved are up to their ears in snow," he adds.

Mervyn is married to Jennifer and they have four children. Russell (32), Fergus (31) and Rhonda (33) are happily settled in Australia and working in the non- agricultural sector.

The eldest, Leone, works in Wicklow as a nurse with a local vet's practice.

"I can't see any of the children in Australia coming home to take up farming," says Mervyn.

"It's too labour intensive for them and they love the Australian sun.

"They keep telling me that they'll come home to the farm when the working hours are reduced." For now, Mervyn and George will be "bringing up the century" for the Sunderland farming name in Co Wicklow next year - and for many years more judging by Mervyn's attitude to the notion of retiring.

"I don't ever think about retiring. I'd feel like a zombie if I wasn't working on the farm," he emphasises.

Off farm his main interest is following the Wicklow Hunt. "I follow the hunt. I don't ride these days, just follow and do the things that nobody else wants to do!"

He also takes an interest in ploughing and is a committee member of the local ploughing group.

Indo Farming