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.

‘Ballycreelly The Tank’ – one of Kevin’s rams ranking in the top 1% of the breed

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.

He has been performance recording his 50-ewe flock for 30 years and today it features within the breed’s top 10%.

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.

Hampshire Down ram lambs

“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.