‘Social farming is beneficial for all’: Limousin breeder

Social farming is very beneficial to everyone involved, getting people back in touch with nature; instilling confidence; giving job satisfaction; and it is a very cost-effective way to solve a lot of problems in modern society.

That’s the perspective of Tom Finnerty who has a 40ac farm in Bovinion, Mountbellew, Co. Galway.

A pedigree Limousin breeder; bee keeper; and retained fire fighter with Galway fire service, stationed in Mountbellew, Tom has now moved into social farming.

“My first social placement finished about a month ago and I am hoping to facilitate more placements in the spring when the weather is better as I have found it to be highly beneficial for all involved.”

Tom heard about social farming from his wife Mary who works with the Brothers of Charity Services and has found it to be beneficial for himself and the participants.

“I completed the training and health and safety checks earlier this year and was delighted when I was contacted by Ability West Services from Tuam with a view to having two different groups of social farmers for two days a week over an initial 10-week period,” Tom said.

Over this time I got to know what the people supported liked and what their abilities were. They took real pride in their work and got great job satisfaction on the completion of even the smallest of tasks. Every day we did the daily herding and feeding, moving of stock to fresh grass, painting and even brought turf from the bog.

“Every visit finished at the kitchen table with a cup of tea and a chat which was also beneficial for all involved. I have really enjoyed my first venture into social farming and hopefully it will continue in the spring,” Tom said.

Stylish animals

He purchased his first pedigree heifer in 1995 and gradually increased the herd year-on-year until he had 25 cows calving every year.

“I just love the Limousin breed as they are easy to calve, hardy calves, milky cows, real stylish animals that grade well and most importantly sell well,” he said.

“I became involved in the Irish Limousin Society and on two occasions have had the honour of being chairman of the north-west Limousin Club as well as serving on the Limousin Society council.

“My herd and cattle have won many prizes over the years, judged to be the best medium herd in the north-west club in 2018. I sell most of my stock from home with a lot of the bulls going to repeat customers,” said Tom.

Over the last few years I have reduced my herd by about 50% due to the rocketing input costs and the steady decline of the sale price for stock. The perpetual chase for ICBF [Irish Cattle Breeding Federation] stars has decimated our useable gene pool.

“Even our old proven sires are now unusable due to star ratings. I hoped as a breeder that all the data and computer programmes would help us as breeders but I, like many, have no confidence in the star system. If it worked, the gene Ireland bulls would be in huge demand but this is not the case.

“Over the next few years I intend to hold stock numbers as they are producing the best-quality stock possible but keeping the costs at a minimum. Hopefully, in time, the beef industry will sort itself out and small farmers like me might see a little profit at the end of every year once again,” Tom said.

‘Bovinion Honey’

Six years ago, Tom moved into beekeeping.

“We got our first beehive and learned through trial and error but every year the number of hives has grown and the honey harvest has increased.

“We sell our honey ‘Bovinion Honey’ from home at local Christmas markets and this year we have supplied Coyle’s SuperValu, Mountbellew, and it’s selling extremely well,” he said.

“I will expand my beekeeping enterprise as much as I can as there seems to be a great interest in all things bees and beekeeping as well as a huge market for local Irish honey. I also hope to develop the social farming part of my farm,” Tom said.