“Going organic has put me back in contact with farming and I am grateful for that,” says Oliver Dixon, who farms 43 ha (106 ac) in Ahena, Claremorris, Co. Mayo.
I was disillusioned with farming. I had tried many different approaches, including buying weaned cows and slaughtering cattle for meat, raising weaned bulls for the export market, and keeping cattle.
“None of these companies made enough money to justify the expense and work I put into it.
“When my father died in 1992, I took over the family business. I was interested in organic farming and was seriously involved for a number of years before finally taking the plunge with the Irish Organic Association in 2010.
“I have just signed up for another five year contract with the Organic Farming Scheme as it is working very well for me.
Oliver is a trained psychotherapist and runs a clinic on the farm, and his wife Anna is an artist and also has a studio on the farm. Most of their land is permanent pasture with some forestry.
“Before we made the switch, we returned to Aberdeen Angus as the returns from upgrading continental cattle were unsustainable after paying high feed prices,” says Oliver.
“Every animal raised on the farm is ready for beef. After the conversion, we stuck with the Angus as they were easier to finish. For a few years there was an Angus bonus that helped; now we are gradually going back to the simmental because we want to increase the weight gain of the animals.
“The breeding animals on the farm are getting old, so I have been buying replacements from an organic farmer for a number of years. I buy 10 or 15 each year to grow replacements from; We may return to Angus from the Simmentals.
“There are 65 cattle in total on the farm, including cows, weaners, stores and fattening pigs. I sell twice a year — usually in August/September when the animals have finished weeding, then in April/May; these are made from red clover silage in the barn.
“Ready cattle are sold to Slaney Meats in Wexford which is the only downside as transport costs increase and it’s a short journey. As the organic sector expands, it would be good to see more processors enter the market.
“The price of beef is a constant topic of conversation and I think we have a lot to do to market Irish organic beef. This is the next step for the industry.
“Organic farmers produce an excellent product that needs to be recognized and marketed to its full potential.”
Oliver finds red clover to be the magic ingredient on his farm.
“In 2013 I completely resown red clover for the first time,” he says. “Back then I grew an oat and pea combo crop for two years and then sowed red clover and perennial ryegrass to build fertility. The combi culture was either combined or baled.
“I’ve since said goodbye to growing combi crops as I just don’t have the equipment and the weather in the west of Ireland can be too changeable.
“Then I switched my focus to clover and sods in the yard. Red Clover exceeded my expectations. I seldom graze the crops, and when I do it will be a very light graze.
“My focus is silage and it contains around 16% protein on average, which I’m very happy with. I recently had my silage tested and the DMD was 79 with protein 18pc which is fantastic.
“I average four cuts a year and get about five balls per acre from my 12ac red clover. The first cut is around May 10th, then it gets some manure and five weeks later it is cut again, then the crop is treated with diluted manure and after the third cut it is treated with farmyard manure.
“After the final cut, the clover is mulched into the soil, feeding the soil microbes over the winter.
“This system worked very well and the animals have developed splendidly with red clover silage.
“Other farmers have different management approaches and there is always the question of grazing versus cutting; Every situation is different and farmers need to manage them according to the needs of their individual businesses.
“Another common question about red clover is how long it lasts in a sod; in my experience the sod sown in 2013 is still being used. But the red clover has definitely become sparse in the last two or three years and reseeding is planned for next year.
“Essentially it comes down to management; The cost of overseeding is certainly worth it as the clover is your fertilizer in an organic system and you need to care for and manage it accordingly.”
Oliver and Anna are actively involved in social farming, which allows people who are socially, physically, mentally or intellectually disadvantaged to spend time on their farm.
“We are very happy to get involved in social farming,” says Oliver. “From February to October, two people came to the farm every week to farm with us. Weekly tasks include growing vegetables in our poly tunnel, moving fences, herding cattle, chopping down wood and feeding cattle.
“It’s very rewarding to have people on the farm and see them doing jobs they would otherwise never have the opportunity to do.
“Anna has someone in the studio one day a week. Social farming can really improve daily farm life for everyone.
“I would encourage farmers to get involved; It’s like organic farming in that it’s an enriching experience. We are talking about functional diversity in farming and I have found that combining organic and social farming is rewarding for both people and the environment.”
Grace Maher is Development Officer at the Irish Organic Association, email@example.com
https://www.independent.ie/business/farming/beef/beef-farm-profiles/how-red-clover-has-been-key-to-this-mayo-beef-farmers-success-42205760.html How red clover was key to this Mayo cattle breeder’s success