‘There will be very few hill farmers in years to come’

There will be very few hill farmers in the years to come due to the time-consuming and difficult nature of the work. That’s the view of Kerry farmer Kieran Doona who was selected as the December Farming for Nature ambassador.

Kieran is from a family that has been farming along one of the main access routes to Carrauntoohil for five generations. The 28 year-old, part-time farmer is part of the MacGillycuddy Reeks European Innovation Partnership (EIP) project.

He was commended for his efforts to meet its objectives of working with local farmers to maintain and enhance the rare and protected heath and bog through controlled grazing, establishing an active landowner ranger presence, undertaking path maintenance works and treating bracken and rhododendron in the area.

New approaches

Kieran was also praised for being open to trialling new approaches on his farm. He has significantly reduced sheep numbers on his site to allow the heathers and other heathland vegetation to recover.

“I have 120 Mayo/Lanark ewes and 60 purebred Lanark ewes. I have 10 black Limousin weanlings that I only keep for 12 months every year,” said Kieran, who works with Upland Recreation Ireland on path maintenance.

Kieran, who is engaged, plans to marry his fiancee, Áine, in December, all going well on the Covid front, and they have a five year-old son, Jamie.

“My father is still farming at home. I am renting my maternal grandfather’s farm from my uncle. I farm 30ac lowland and 430ac of comerage. I also rent ground during the winter for grazing,” he said.

He was always interested in farming and the environment. “I was farming from a young age with my grandfather Johnny Doona,” he said.

I think hill farming is a difficult type of farming comparing it to lowland as gathering sheep from the mountain for shearing, dosing, etc, can take a number of days. I think there will be very few hill farmers in years to come as the work involved is too time consuming and difficult.

Farming in such a beauty spot brings its challenges. “We have had to stop gathering sheep from the mountain at the weekends for shearing during the summer as it is too busy with walkers.

“We also have had to stop dogs entering the hill as sheep have been affected, being injured and chased. There is also substantial visible erosion on the mountain from walkers which will worsen over time.”

However, Kieran remains committed to hill farming and is very interested in purebred Lanark sheep. “My plan over time is to build up a good flock of purebred Lanark ewes,” he said.

Although parts of hill farming can be difficult, there are also many positive and rewarding aspects. I enjoy spending time in the outdoors and seeing my own flock thriving on the hills in the summer months.

“Thankfully, Jamie seems to be interested in farming and has five of his own Zwartbles ewes.”

Meanwhile, the Farming for Nature awards are now open for 2021.