Farm Ireland

Wednesday 21 February 2018

'The fairs were much more civilised than the marts'

My Week: Dave Cahill, Cahill's farm cheese, Newcastle west, Co Limerick

Dave Cahill of Cahill's farm cheese, Newcastle west, Co Limerick
Dave Cahill of Cahill's farm cheese, Newcastle west, Co Limerick

Ken Whelan

Dave Cahill minds the home farm in County Limerick and he describes it as an easy enough job taking care of the 62ac Aberdeen Angus organic operation in Newcastle West.

"I count them out and move them every day and there is no great expense with the herd because you don't use the fertiliser. And the son, Liam, takes care of the work when he is back home at the weekends," explains the 80-year-old, who is pictured with his wife Marion, son Dan and daughter Helen.

"A day does not pass without me walking the land," says the 'retired but not retired' Dave. "The son Liam has made many changes - reseeding, draining and fencing and the like. There have been constant changes to the land which we have farmed for 11 decades," says Dave.

Dave took over the family farm, which was bought in 1902 by a successful uncle returning from Massachusetts, from his dad, William, in the early '70s.

William ran a daily 'milk round' in Limerick city with the milk of his Friesian herd and then sold the remainder onto the local creamery.

Armed with the dairy science degree from UCC and work stints as a creamery manager and on a Dairy Programme with the Dept of Agriculture it was obvious that Dave was going to make changes on the farm.

Along and his wife Marion he saw the huge commercial possibilities which the country's accession to the EU in the seventies presented.

"It was an eye opener," he recalls and the couple swiftly began experimenting with using their farm milk to make artisan cheeses.

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"Marion developed the cheese back then. She has cheddar with chives which she called after her birthplace in Ballintubber and Feargal Quinn liked it and started selling it in his shops and everything took off from there," Dave recalls.

The cheeses thrived and they are now exported to 15 different countries from Britain to the Emirates and from the EU to the USA.

The cheese company today is supervised off farm by the Cahill children - Helen, Dan and Eoin - while their sibling Liam has taken over the farm.

The cheese 'sideline' developed by Dave and Marion simply outgrew the farm in the nineties or to put it in Dave's words - "You'd need to have a thousand dairy cows and the land to go with it to produce Ballintubber in Newcastle West these days. Things have certainly come a long way since my father did his milk round in Limerick."

Nowadays about 40 head of organically reared Aberdeen Angus go through the farm at Newcastle West during any given year. The current head count on the farm is 17 - what with recent sales to cattle agents like Purcell's.

Not that Dave is interested in the selling side mind you. "In my days I preferred the fairs. Much more civilised than the marts. You never got the same roaring in your ears that you get at the marts," he explains.

He's happy down on the farm with the Aberdeen Angus and remains amazed at how the family's Ballintubber cheese enterprise has developed.

"Our cheese has found its way into over 15 countries this year and Lidl have come down and bought some of the products for their Deluxe range. And I hear that on social media - something I know nothing about- we are getting photos and comments from all over the world, and that's something that would have been unimaginable to my father on his milk round in the forties."

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