School’s out for Kildare pedigree farmer

School’s out, and Barry Murphy of Murbro Pedigree Livestock, is swopping the classroom for the green fields of Castledermot, Co. Kildare.

Deputy principal in Hacketstown National School, Murphy farms about 140ac in total, with 115ac in the main block on the home farm.

While many with off-farm jobs find it a challenge to keep all the balls in the air, the school holidays provide him with blocks of time to roll up his sleeves and get tasks done.

“The ewes lamb during my Easter holidays, and the cows calve during July and August, when I’m off work,” he said.

The farm was purchased by his grandparents in the late 1960s. Both their families had farmed in the area for generations prior to that.

“The farm existed as a dairy farm up until the herd’s dispersal in 1996,” said Murphy. “However, my late grandfather, Pat, was best known for showing Suffolk sheep at shows and sales around the country.

“My grandmother, Rosaleen, has a keen interest in what goes on, on the farm, and my father, Pádraig, is still involved in the day-to-day running of the operation.”

His brother, Graham, works in the agri business industry. “Taking over the management of the farm has been a gradual process over recent years, with no radical changes taking place at once,” Murphy said.

“Dad began to take a step back, as we stepped forward. He trusted us, and was happy to let us make our own mistakes, and learn from them.

“The dynamic has changed, though the three of us still work together as a team,” he said.

It hasn’t always been easy, as both myself and Graham have our own ideas. The inevitable conflict does occasionally raise its head. However, I think we are beginning to realise we have individual skill sets that complement each other.

“We make the effort to sit down quarterly to make plans, discuss what’s going well, and also to recognise where changes need to be made,” Murphy said.

The main enterprise is a flock of 90 pedigree Suffolk and Texel ewes, lambed in April, to produce grass-reared shearling rams. They are sold for breeding to commercial sheep farmers.

These are run alongside an increasing commercial flock of 150 Lleyn and Lleyn-cross ewes. “They produce prime lambs that are sold to a local butcher,” Murphy said.

“We use our home-bred ram lambs on the commercial ewe flock before selling them the following year.

“All our rams are sold directly off-farm, often to repeat customers. Last year we had customers travel from as far as Kerry and Donegal,” said Murphy.

“Our rams are more fertile and live longer than the typical over-fed pedigree ram lamb, and have been selected for ease of lambing and lamb vigour at birth,” he contended.

“We have a lot of confidence in what we are selling. Alongside this, we raise some dairy-bred calves to beef, and keep a small, but quality, herd of pedigree Charolais cattle.

“The area of crops farmed is decreasing year-on-year as the stocking rate is increased,” Murphy said.

A change of direction?

With the abolition of milk quotas, the Murphys are constantly asked if they are going back into cows.

“Today’s answer is no. That may change in the future. The farm is an ideal candidate for conversion to dairying, but both Graham and I have good careers and a good quality of life. We are able to make the farm work around our jobs.

Borrowing hundreds of thousands of euro to invest in a milking parlour, sheds and roadways, to work longer hours, under more intense pressure, does not appeal to us.

“Some national organisations would suggest we should step aside, to give an ambitious young dairy entrant an opportunity to farm in their own right.

“This attitude does not rest easy with all the beef, sheep and tillage farmers, who are still out there, still not lacking in ambition,” he said.

Meanwhile, as the school books are put away and reports finalised, there are cows to calve, rams to sell, and an endless list of other tasks to complete. “I can’t wait,” Murphy said.