‘If I were 10 years younger I’d con­vert to dairy the bills to be paid after cat­tle are sold are shock­ing’

Irish Independent - Farming - - RURAL LIFE -

With 120 suck­ler cat­tle and 400 ewes, Tom Con­roy’s 400-acre farm on the out­skirts of Kil­beg­gan, Co West­meath is large by the stan­dards of the dry­s­tock sec­tor, where the av­er­age suck­ler and sheep herds stand at 20 and 140 re­spec­tively, according to Tea­gasc.

But with mar­gins get­ting ever tighter, Tom says that if cir­cum­stances were dif­fer­ent, he would switch to dairy farm­ing.

“If I were ten years younger, I’d con­vert to dairy,” he says. “The bills that must be paid after all the cat­tle are sold is shock­ing. By the time I’ve fixed up with ev­ery­one, there’s not too much left.

“At least in dairy you’ve got a cheque com­ing in ev­ery month and you’ve still got your an­i­mal left as well. With my sys­tem it’s very hard to pay ev­ery­body and have enough left at the right times to do things like de­velop the farm.

“I’m farm­ing 400 acres be­tween owned and rented land it’s only a cou­ple of kilo­me­tres away, around 320 acres al­to­gether, but it’s split by roads, then the re­main­ing land is scat­tered, so it would be good for dairy.”

Covid-19 forced Tom to al­ter how he did business. The clos­ing down of marts co­in­cided with the time when he usu­ally sells most of his cat­tle.

How­ever, even with the online buying and sell­ing plat­forms yet to be es­tab­lished, his local mart in Tul­lam­ore was able to help him out.

“I called the man­ager of the mart An­toinette Daly at the end of March to ask what could be done to sell cat­tle,” he says. “She said the mart was closed but she would make a few phone calls to get buy­ers.

“That was on a Fri­day and by the following week I started get­ting phone calls from peo­ple who wanted cat­tle to eat grass.

“They’d ring look­ing for cat­tle Charo­lais and Li­mou­sine were in de­mand and any­one that came I sold to them and of­ten they would take a few more than they came for.

“We agreed on a price per kilo and then we booked a slot in the mart where they were weighed. All you had to do was show up. They did all the pa­per­work.

“All you had to do was pay com­mis­sion the seller paid €10 and the buyer paid €8 and you got the cheque a week later in the post.”

Lamb sales also make up a big por­tion of the en­ter­prise. While Tom says it’s not a lu­cra­tive business it’s an im­por­tant and fast way for him to gen­er­ate in­come, es­pe­cially when his fam­ily were go­ing through thirdlevel ed­u­ca­tion.

“Some­one once said to me lambs won’t make you any money, but they’ll keep a few bills paid and they were right. I had five kids and they all went through col­lege, so the lambs were a good way of gen­er­at­ing money.”

“The first of the sheep lamb in Fe­bru­ary and early March and the re­main­der lamb in April and May. The first of them go to the fac­tory in June / early July. I sell them through an agent called Bernard Camp­bell. He comes over and looks at them and picks the best ones to sell. We only sell them as they’re fit to go. It works well.

“The lambs kill out at roughly

Wet pe­riod Tight mar­gins:

Tom Con­roy with some of his suck­ler herd at Stone­house farm, Kil­beg­gan, Co West­meath; be­low, with his wife Cather­ine 50pc; 21kg is the cut-off point, you don’t get paid for anything over 21kg, so if they weigh more it costs you to pro­duce some­thing the fac­tory will sell for profit, which is wrong.

“We got a good price for this time of the time of year. I usu­ally got 4.90/kg for mid-July lamb we got around £5.50-5.60, which was one of the first times it was up for this pe­riod. The Easter price wasn’t as good this year ei­ther.”

The pro­longed wet pe­riod means that Tom has been un­able to cut hay in re­cent weeks.

“I have 20 acres of hay that I hoped to cut in mid-July, but it has been so wet it’s still in the field. The con­trac­tor will be here next week to cut 60 acres of silage, and if the weather doesn’t pick up by then I’ll be cutting the hay as silage and putting it in the silage pit be­cause it will be too strong at that stage.”

With re­ports of a scarcity of straw the com­ing weeks, Tom is look­ing to use peat as an al­ter­na­tive form of bedding.

“I heard straw is go­ing to cost over €15 a bale. I’ll be us­ing over six bales ev­ery second day which will work out very ex­pen­sive. So, this year I’m go­ing to use peat, from Bord Na Mona. It will work out cheaper than straw and is a lot less labour in­ten­sive as you only have to throw it down ev­ery cou­ple of weeks.”

‘Some­one once said to me lambs won’t make you any money, but they’ll keep a few bills paid and they were right. I had five kids and they all went through col­lege. The lambs were a good way of gen­er­at­ing money’

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