Fashion by day; farming by night: Part-time doesn’t mean unprofitable
Working in the fashion industry by day and farming by night doesn’t make up your typical grassland farmer’s routine, but part-time doesn’t mean unprofitable.
Several of Co. Down farmer Kevin McCarthy’s Hampshire Down rams are in the top 1% and 5% of the breed.
Despite being a part-time farmer, all his flock-related decisions are based on the profitability and sustainability of the business.
Impressed by reports of trouble-free lambing; high survival rates; high live-weight gain; and good killing out percentages associated with the breeds, Kevin began to breed Beltex and Hampshire Down sheep in the 1980s.
The farm is just 25ha, but through careful planning and wise business decisions, he makes every acre count. He and his wife Anna also breed polo ponies.
“Because we’re a fairly small farm we had to go for high value rather than high volume. I decided it would be better to get into a pedigree breed and maximise profit that way – but like a lot of farmers in Ireland I’m part-time,” he said.
“I used to work for Magee in Donegal, but I now work for an Italian and Dutch company mainly in menswear clothing – so it’s very diverse.
“The breeds I decided to concentrate on were Hampshires – who are now growing in numbers extremely quickly in the south of Ireland – and Beltex. Neither of them were mainstream sheep but they did specifically good jobs.
“Mainstream sheep are extremely expensive to get into and, in my opinion, they are led a lot by fashion.
“Everything I do, I do with profitability in mind,” he said.
Performance recording has given an objective view on the flock’s progress. Ram lambs born last year recorded a scan weight of 6.97kg; 5.85kg heavier than in the year 2000.
“Performance recording is both permanent and cumulative; genetic gain has been particularly exponential and I’ve proved that growth rates and muscling can be greatly enhanced with selected breeding.
“Half of this gain – 2.92kg – will be passed on to his progeny consequently at £1.80/kg,” Kevin said. “That extra gain could be worth as much as £5.27 per lamb.”
Over the same period, the number of lambs per ewe had also increased by 0.2; increasing each ewe’s value by between £16 and £18.
Stocking rate also increased by one ewe per hectare; boosting the farm’s profitability by £6.50 per ewe.
“It has to be a good carcase sheep – but it also has to have good figures. Our strategy is to only keep sheep which have good carcases but to also concentrate on those with good figures,” he added.