A breed apart

Tommy Moyles

Posted on: 6th July, 2015

Category: Features

Contributor: Mary O'Brien

Suckler farmer Tommy Moyles is doing a job he has always wanted to do, in a place he enjoys living in. Just a stone’s throw from Sandescove strand in Ardfield on the Wild Atlantic Way with views of Rosscarbery bay, Toe head, Sherkin island and Mount Gabriel, Tommy’s land is in one of the most beautiful and accessible locations in Ireland, which is why, although he won’t be a millionaire any time soon, he counts his blessings every day. “It’s ten minutes drive in to Clonakilty town and I can be at the airport in an hour and from there anywhere in the world. Unfortunately it doesn’t show up on the balance sheet but it’s pretty priceless to me. Many will say I’m foolish for saying this, but it’s my life, my story and I chose it so if you don’t like it, tough,” says Tommy.

Tommy graduated from CIT in 2005 with a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture degree. He manages the cattle enterprise on his family’s pig and beef farm at Ardfield Clonakilty, running a herd of 65 Simmental cows and followers.

Although his father, Tom, is a predominantly a pig farmer, Tommy’s grá has always been for cattle. Like many aspiring young farmers, he bought a calf with his First Holy Communion money, selling it a year later and buying another calf with the profit. He also made some extra money from selling the eggs from the 50 ducks he kept while still in school.

Beef production from grass is one of Irish farming’s greatest strengths. It is also a difficult industry to solely make a living from without scale. According to 2014 figures from Teagasc, only the top one third of single suckling and cattle finishing will operate a profitable enterprise in 2015. So why do Irish suckler farmers do it?

Suckler farming is one of the rare types of farming where it is possible to keep workload to a minimum, even at calving time, so some suckler farmers supplement their income with other farming practices or find part-time work in other sectors.

“In comparison to dairy, your income will never be the same,” says Tommy bluntly, “so why should you put a huge amount of time in when it’s not necessary. Some guys love hardship, I don’t, I put a value on my time.”

Tommy aims to have easy care cows that can calf unassisted. “Straightforward calving gives both cow and calf a good chance of performing well for the rest of the year. With a beef cow, she calves, you hope everything will go ok, and at the end of the day, you don’t really have a lot to do.”

Efficient time management also allowed him the chance to become very involved in Macra na Feirme; he was Vice President of the national organisation for two years. As well as contributing articles weekly to the Irish Farmer’s Journal, Tommy is a member of Kilmeen Drama Group and is involved in both the summer productions, ‘Widows Paradise’ and ‘Rossa’. He enjoys having a pastime so different to his day job.

“There were two things that changed my family’s way of thinking and the way we now do things as suckler farmers,” explains Tommy. “The first was my brother’s experience working on a cattle station in Australia. He saw what was possible with big numbers of cattle and how the biggest difference between how things were done there and here was the absence of time pressure on the farms in Australia; they have a few busy days in the year with vaccinations, worming and so on, but that’s it.”

The other eye-opener for Tommy was travelling under the Nuffield Ireland farming Scholarship in 2014. As a result of being awarded the scholarship, Tommy was away for three months learning about agriculture in other parts of the world. “I left at the end of February, whereas before, I would have shut down my life completely during calving time. I saw that the place could operate without me and started working to live instead of the other way around.”

Tommy’s educational trip on the Nuffield Scholarship started with a conference in Australia, before travelling with a group and on his own for 12 weeks to South Africa, Kenya, Russia, Eastern Europe, Germany, the USA and New Zealand, learning about different farm practices and businesses. “The main thing I learnt is that the management and time management techniques are pretty much the same across all industries, including farming.

“Efficient time management can make a farmer’s workload so much easier,” says Tommy. “Recognising your own strengths and weaknesses helps. We’re not a mechanically minded family so machinery work is contracted in; this allows us to focus on what we’re good at. There were 28 hours of slurry spread on the farm last year; what’s the point of buying a slurry tank and have it sitting in the yard for 363 days of the year.”

The decision to bring all their own animals to slaughter in 2013 was a positive step for the business. “This increased our output at similar costs and little extra time,” explains Tommy.

“For the future, we need to be more aware of what goes on outside the farm gate, we are food producers not just cattle farmers,” says Tommy. “Irish beef farmers don’t see the meat side of beef, which is very different to how it’s done in New Zealand and Australia. It’s important to understand your customer and what they want. A huge learning curve for me was selling meat from the freezer to a few neighbours. I gained an understanding of the different sizes and cuts of meat that sell.”

Tommy believes there should be a module on meat, counting for at least 20 per cent of overall marks, on all agricultural courses. “If young farmers are educated on this, then they will have a better understanding of their product and what sells.”

“Fragmentation is our biggest challenge,” says Tommy. “We have 60 acres here in Dunowen, 20 a mile away and rented land 10 miles away in Ballinascarthy, on the other side of Clonakilty.”

Spring 2013 brought another far more worrying challenge. “Not so much the fodder crisis,” says Tommy “but we had a bad scour and fluke outbreak with a mortality of 20 per cent of calves. Disease was our biggest trial that year.

In suckler farming in general, Tommy sees succession is one of the biggest challenges to its future. “There are opportunities for people to get into dairy without a background in farming but the challenge facing the beef industry is who is going to keep the sector going if young people don’t want to do it. It’s not a full-time occupation, so not as attractive as dairy.”

Saying that, it’s a job that Tommy highly recommends. “Once the animals go outdoors in spring, there isn’t a lot to it. You have to take chances and think outside the box and find a system that works for you to make a living from suckler farming, but if you do that, then it provides a very rewarding way of life.”

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Submarines, American Sailors, and the Underwater War in Irish Waters, 1917-1918
by Dr John Borgonovo in The Parish Centre, Clonakilty
on Thursday Oct 26 2017 at 8.30 pm

In 1917, unrestricted submarine warfare by German U-boats brought the United States into WWI and created a crisis in Britain. To defeat the submarine menace, an American naval fleet was dispatched to County Cork, bringing about 10,000 sailors with it. This talk will explain the circumstances of this extraordinary event, and how Cork residents dealt with their unexpected American guests.

Dr John Borgonovo is a lecturer in the School of History at UCC. His publications include Spies, Informers, and the 'Anti-Sinn Féin' Society: The Intelligence War in Cork City, 1920-1921; The Dynamics of War and Revolution: Cork City, 1916-1918; Exercising a close vigilance over their daughters: Cork women, American sailors, and Catholic vigilantes, 1917-18; Something in the Nature of a Massacre: The Bandon Valley Killings Revisited (with Andy Bielenberg). His latest publication (with co-authors John Crowley, Donal Ó Drisceoil and Mike Murphy) is the highly acclaimed and magnificient Atlas of the Irish Revolution. In July of this year, he organised a very successful conference on Winning the Western Approaches - Unrestricted Submarine Warfare and the US Navy in Ireland 1917-1918.
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11th October, 2017  ·  

Apple Juicing Day in Clonakilty next Sunday Sept 30th. All welcome to bring their apples from 2-6pm to the Clonakilty Community Garden (on entrance road to Clonakilty Lodge).

Building on the success of its inaugural 2016 event, local voluntary environmental organisation Sustainable Clonakilty invites people to bring along their apples and press them to extract their own juice to take home, using the group's Apple Press.

Volunteers will be at hand to assist in the procedure. Bring along your apples washed; clean containers to freeze your juice (milk/juice bottles or cartons, plastic bottles with caps); clean, sterilised glass bottles to pasteurise with swing caps or suitable for 26 mm diameter metal cap.

A limited number of new 3 litres juice bags that are suitable for freezing and pasteurising, can be purchased for a nominal fee on the day also.

This is a free community event and donations will be welcome to cover costs.

For further information, please contact Xavier at xavierdubuisson@gmail.com or text at 086/0476124.
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