Farm Ireland
Independent.ie

Monday 11 December 2017

The farm where robots do the heavy lifting

It was the first of its kind in the world, and it's certainly causing a stir in northwest Cork - we visit Ireland's only robotic beef farm.

Frank Murphy controls every aspect of the robotic feeding unit with a mobile tablet computer
Frank Murphy controls every aspect of the robotic feeding unit with a mobile tablet computer
Darragh McCullough

Darragh McCullough

What do you do when you have built up a successful global finance business? Start beef farming, naturally.

Frank Murphy is the businessman behind the foreign exchange company Monex based in Killarney in Co Kerry.

"Do you know when a website like Ryanair asks what currency you want to pay in? That's us doing the conversions," he explains.

The business has developed into a multi-million euro one, so Murphy was never going to be short of cash to indulge in his other interests in life, one of which happens to be farming.

But in fairness to the former Wexford native, his foray into beef is not without logic. He grew up on a large farm at the now famous Dunbrody House in southeast Wexford, where his dad was the farm manager.

When his wife, Teresa, inherited the family farm at Glen South just outside Banteer in north Cork in 2012, the entrepreneur knew he had a fresh opportunity on his hands.

"It was around the same time as Teresa was sick, which meant that I was around home more than normal. We don't live on the farm, so we were faced with the decision to either sell it or do something with it. But if we were doing something with it, it had to be on the basis that it was a viable business proposition - it still has to make money. We're not relying on any Single Farm Payment for a profit here," claims Murphy.

A complete refurbishment of the old farmyard ensued, with an spend of €1m, most of which went into the 260 by 100ft slatted shed that can house 600 cattle at a time.

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"We didn't skimp, so we put in things like those comfort slat mats that are probably 30pc dearer than a typical slat. They come with a six year guarantee and we're really delighted with them. The cattle are totally content on them, and they actually stay much cleaner than on the standard slat," he says.

Feedlots

Cattle are bought at a target weight of 440kg, with a target of fattening them at a rate of 1.1kg/day to finish them in a 70 to 100 day period.

"They're mostly Angus and Hereford crosses, most of which would be O+. But we are aiming to get 55-60pc grading as Rs in the factory. I've been lucky enough to get access to feedlots being operated by the likes of Goodman - you'd be surprised how few Rs are bought into those units," says Murphy.

ABP is where most of his cattle are being sold to through local cattle agent, Gerry Murphy.

"There's no forward price contracts but we would be working off a minimum price. This determines what we are prepared to pay for stock.

During the summer it was up to €2.60/kg, but in the autumn it was down to €2.20," says Frank.

Every animal is weighed, vaccinated and dosed when it arrives before being grouped into pens with similar weights.

A central crush and handling area is fitted with mats underfoot to minimise stress and noise.

See how Darragh got on meeting both Frank Murphy and his robot on RTE television's Ear to the Ground tonight at 8.30pm

Indo Farming