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16/10/2021

Cúlbhac Farm is an organic haven promoting biodiversity

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Cúlbhac Farm is an organic haven promoting biodiversity

Cúlbhac Farm

Cúlbhac Farm


Esther and Ollie O'Brien 

Cúlbhac Farm

Newport 

Co. Tipperary 


100 acre family farm run by ourselves, a married couple with 3 children. Ollie hails from our farm in Newport Co. Tipperary. This farm has been in his family for at least 200 years. His entrepreneurial father practised a few additional businesses on the farm, such as Christmas trees and cycle tours.

Back in the 80's, the farm was a dairy farm which was struck down with TB. His father exited dairy and entered beef and organics with the Irish Organic Association. Both Ollie's parents worked off the farm, with his father starting a small bus company that Ollie and his brothers worked in at some point. Ollie met a New Zealand girl, Esther overseas in New York and brought her to Ireland. Esther grew up on a 3000 acre high country sheep and beef station in the North Island mountain ranges. She escaped to the cities after university, to get far away from farming life. Ollie didn't look at all like a farmer to her which was promising. Nearly 10 years ago, Ollie's parents asked if Ollie was interested in the farm and possibly a partnership. But Ollie learnt to farm quickly when his father passed away, working also full time off the farm, and with newborn twin girls. 

We had been thinking about business ideas for the farm for a few years. The dream was for both  to work on the farm full-time. We were very interested in promoting biodiversity, looking after the environment, and adding to the farm; such as planting trees, maintaining hedgerows. 

Having small children, rearing calves and having laying hens seemed appealing as Esther was able to start the business while Ollie worked off the farm for a bit longer. We discovered the mobile hen house system and decided to jump in, ordering 300 hens to start. Ollie had a few months to build the house which he did out of an old army trailer. The challenge was to meet organic housing standards and after a bit of head scratching and ingenuity they got there. Since then he has taught himself to weld and has built two more hen houses and a mobile dairy milker too, preferably reusing materials. The first Covid Lockdown had happened and we had 300 eggs a day to sell! We rebranded the farm to Cúlbhac Farm, which was the farm's original name but was anglosied in 1840 to the township of Oakhampton. In New Zealand, farm honesty boxes are used to sell farm produce, usually for fruit and vegetables. We put one up at the farm gate, and it worked brilliantly and today still is our best market. Social media was a huge help as markets and food businesses were closed. Our main aim is to sell directly to customers. Building and registering an egg packery on the farm opened doors to selling in retail and restaurants. We've expanded 700 birds and are now both full-time on the farm. We've been in the organic egg business for 14 months. We were always going to start our business at this time. The Lockdown forced us to think out of the box and we did well. It helped that people were at home and could come visit our farm or our small collection in the villages. 

We also have organic beef and are building a herd of organic Angus so that we can sell organic beef direct to customers. We rear around 40 calves a year from Templeroe Farm, who produce amazing organic raw milk in Crecora. We have started to milk some of these Angus cows with a mobile milker that Ollie welded together. He milks them out in the fields and moves the milker with the tractor. It's 2 berths and runs on a generator. This milk is used to feed the calves. We have started mob grazing the Angus beef herd with around a 90 day rotation. We may slightly shorten this next year as we've had too much grass this year. A road separates the farm in half and we no longer regularly have to cross the road with them as they now only graze one side of the farm, while the hens and milking calves are not on the other side. In one season we have seen new grasses and flowers in the pastures, we will let them reseed themselves. Our organic beef goes to Good Herdsman and we hope to sell more direct to our local market very soon. 

We sell organic salad 'George's Greens' in the spring and summer, which we grow in our polytunnels. We grow our own vegetables and hope to have some vegetables to sell next year. 

We've planted black currants, hazelnuts and plan to plant more every year with fruit trees and other hardwoods in an agroforestry system. We do not cut our hedgerows but will only do maintenance if hedgerow plants are being crowded out by hardwoods. Our hedgerows are heaving at the moment with hawthorn berries, sloe, ivy flowers, blackberries, dog rose hips, crab apples and there is still honeysuckle about. 

We have also become beekeepers and have two hives on the farm, collecting enough honey for us this year but we hope to expand on this and sell honey locally too soon. 

We have only started delving into new enterprises for the past year. We hope to build the farm so that it creates employment opportunities for local people and supplies people with fresh local produce also, food that can be grown locally well. We also want to develop the business so that all our children have the opportunity to work on it or potentially start their own business from the farms resources. 

Farming in an environmentally friendly way is very important to us. We are lucky that Ollie's father set a platform in organics for us. We try to minimise our inputs. Following organic standards helps with this. We do not use preventative treatments, we do not use meal to finish our animals. Our hens supplement their diets by feeding off the pastures. We promote the hedgerows and plant trees. We have fenced off 4 acres of native beech and oak forest on the Mulcair River which blooms with native flowers and plants during the spring and summer. Less management of the farm and letting it do it's own thing has definitely promoted native flora and fauna.

Some of the lessons that we have learnt would be to be more efficient with our farm practices and the way we do things. At the end of the day, you are not making any more income by working longer hours. It is a challenge for both of us to work full-time on the farm. We work 7 days a week, year round. As we both hail from farms, we understand the commitment. It has gotten easier since we've started. We try to keep evenings and most of the Sunday free for family time. We hope in the future to have more food products and to be able to set up our own farm shop. We hope to create employment opportunities in the near future. We would love to produce more salads, vegetables, fruit and nuts. Sell our own beef and honey and to rear pigs for pork, as well as planting the farm out in trees. 

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