Why this Corkman sold his stock to build his farm business
It was easy for the Murphys to stop milking their herd of goats and sell them to their neighbors. According to Luke Murphy, manager of Ardsallagh Cheese in Carrigtohill, East Cork, the work of milking 200 goats twice a day, each taking two hours, was unsustainable with cheese processing.
We found it too difficult to bring the farm and business together and we felt the cheese making was the value for us,” he says.
“Before, it was like we ran two very different businesses and we knew we only needed to focus on one to make it as profitable as possible.”
At the same time the Murphys were trying to get out of Goats, one of their neighbors was trying to get inside them.
“A neighbor came to us and told us about his plans and we ended up selling our goats to him. We told him we would buy every drop of goat milk he could produce, and we did,” says Luke.
“He started milking the goats and we bought the milk and continued to make the cheese here on our farm.”
The Murphys are now buying 7,000 to 9,000 liters of goat’s milk, but they still don’t have enough to keep up with the demand for their cheese.
“We buy raw milk from four different farms and have to carry out a series of tests upon delivery. We do an antibiotic test, a pH test and a taste test in-house and outsource other microbial and bacterial tests to a lab,” says Luke.
“Our biggest challenge is to have enough milk, we are always short.
“I could grow the business quite a bit if I had enough farmers to buy goat milk from.
According to Luke, there is a big chance of supplying goat’s milk, especially in Munster.
According to Luke, it doesn’t take much to get into goat farming. He says this can be a good diversification project for farmers who have fallow land or barns.
“We had 200 goats on 25ac but we could have had more – they don’t take up much space. They like to move in herds and be around other animals, so space isn’t that much of a problem for them.
“They eat a ration that is available at the cooperative farm and they like beet pulp very much.
“Goat farming is a great diversification project for some farmers – if you have a spare piece of land and a spare barn, you really only need a milking parlor and they can be picked up second-hand quite easily.”
The Murphys were never committed to any particular species of goat when they farmed, Luke says, because goats can be difficult to get your hands on in Ireland.
“There really isn’t an open market for goats in Ireland – it’s not like you can just go to the market and buy a couple of goats any day of the week. They can be difficult to get, so don’t be choosy with your breeds.
“We kept a mix of breeds including Toggenburgs, Saanens – which are probably the most common dairy goats – and Anglo Nubians, which are the most distinctive with their large, fluffy ears.
“Saanens are known for producing high quality milk as well as a high yield, so they’re a good breed if you want to get into dairy farming.”
Luke took over management of Ardsallagh Goat’s Cheese five years ago.
“I worked in IT in England and my job gave me the opportunity to take a year’s sabbatical,” he says. “My parents had told me how busy it was here and how they struggled to get things done because there was so much work but not so many hands.
“So I packed my things and moved to Ireland for a year. When the year was up I was faced with the decision of either going back to my old job in England or moving here full-time, so I stayed because I was happy here.”
The Murphys sell their cream cheese to retailers primarily through Sysco and La Rousse.
They also sell to select Tesco, Dunnes, Supervalu and M&S stores across the country.
“We’ve never been very marketing-oriented, but the business has kind of grown organically over the years,” says Luke. “We’ve always been like, ‘let’s try it and see if it works,’ and luckily it did.”
Ardsallagh Cheese is a family affair and Luke’s sisters Louise and Siobhan also work in the business. They also hired a cheese maker “to expand cheese-making know-how.”
“Mom taught herself how to make cheese and then passed her knowledge on to us,” says Luke.
Ardsallagh goat’s cheese is unusual, Luke says, because it’s all made by hand.
“Our cheese is a handmade artisan cheese, so we are targeting the high-end market. It’s a very creamy cheese, so we have to be careful with it when making it – that’s the only way we can get that creamy, luxurious texture.
“However, it is a more labor-intensive method and therefore requires a higher price.
“There aren’t that many cheesemakers in the country who still scoop the cheese out of the vat by hand.
“We also make a small batch of hard goat cheese that is sold by the block, as well as a Greek-style cheese. You can make different types of cheese by adding different cultures and rennet. So we make some experimental cheeses that we sell at farmers markets.
“We specialize in cream cheese that doesn’t need to be matured. This saves time and labor and means the cheese is typically delivered 24 hours after production.”
The Murphys follow a traditional recipe that would have been used in Irish homes in the past, Luke says, and they don’t add any preservatives or flavorings.
“It’s always been very easy here and we’ve never overly mechanized the business.
“We take the cold milk from our storage tank and put it in the pasteurizer, which raises the temperature to 72ºC and holds it there for 15 seconds to kill any bacteria, before cooling it down to 36ºC, which is the right temperature for cheese production.
“Then the milk goes into the cheese kettle and the cultures and rennet are added.”
The rennet curdles the milk, turning it into curds and whey and giving it the required thickness, says Luke. The cultures, which are acid-forming bacteria, give it its flavor.
“The cheese then stays in the vat for 24 hours and then we just hand scoop it out of the vat into the cheese molds where it stays overnight before being turned the next day and salted and bagged the next day.”
Questions and Answers: “When you start, go bigger than you think you’ll need – then there’s always room to expand.”
What start-up costs were incurred when setting up the company?
With my parents it happened very gradually. Her biggest expense was the salon, which is now easy enough to pick up second-hand.
If you already have a bit of land, all you really need is the living room.
Where can you get funding for an agricultural diversification project like this?
There is readily available finance from the banks for starting farm businesses such as cheese making or for purchasing equipment such as milking parlors.
UCC offers a great cheese making course and Teagasc Moorepark are excellent resources for someone looking to start their own cheese business. They can help you develop recipes and learn how to make cheese.
Are there grants for this type of business?
Yes. We got our pasteur partially funded by the Local Enterprise Office.
Do you have to register with certain offices?
We are registered as cheesemakers with the Ministry of Agriculture and are subject to inspection. Food safety has never been an issue for us, so we carry out annual inspections.
You are required by law to have a registration number through the Ministry to sell cheese and each of your products must have this number printed on it.
Registering with the department is mandatory if you plan to start a food business on your farm. They will have certain criteria that you have to meet and they will help you on your way to start your business and if necessary do the construction work, they will show you what you have to do.
You do not need to register as a cheese maker with the HSE unless you have a farm shop and sell from there.
If you could turn back time, what would you do differently?
The problem with growing as we’ve grown is you don’t know how much space you’re going to need.
I would say to anyone thinking of doing something similar to what we are doing – go bigger than you think you will need because then you always have room to expand.
https://www.independent.ie/business/farming/agri-business/why-this-corkman-sold-his-stock-to-build-his-farm-business-42324282.html Why this Corkman sold his stock to build his farm business