Laois farmer Michael G. Phelan has been busy last week between the Plowing Championship being held nearby and the sale of 15 lambs from his purebred Kerry Hill herd.
Ichael, who also raises purebred Angus cattle and is well known in plowing circles, says the past few months have been good for the farm.
“It’s quieter on the farm now because all the silage and corn is being cut thanks to the good weather we’ve had,” he says. “There are still callers wanting to buy some of the lambs, which is always good.
“I also usually help out with ploughing when it comes to arranging parking for the thousands of people who are there every day.”
He farmed outside of Ballacolla on the home farm and started young after his father died when he was three years old. “So after I dropped out of school, I became a farmer when I was about 14.”
After milking cows until 1997, he switched to mother and breed breeding.
“I’ve always had an Angus bull myself on the dairy farm and started with the Angus breed and have been with it ever since,” he says.
Today he has 25 purebred Angus cows and all their offspring.
Michael likes them because they are easy to calve and easy to flesh.
“You can take them down a lot quicker than other breeds,” he says. “And there’s good demand for them — with the amount of dairy men around me, I get repeat buyers.”
He farms with his dog Teddy and says there is also a great trade for his Kerry Hill sheep as there are not too many of them in the country.
Last week he sold all of the lambs from the house to regular buyers from as far afield as Shannonbridge and Blessington.
“The Kerry Hill sheep are distinctive for their color, with a white face, black eye area, and black nose and ears,” he says. “You are a beautifully drawn sheep.
“I bought my first ones in Portumna years ago and brought a ram from Wales a few years later to try and improve them.”
The breed, which hails from a small region called Kerry in Wales, is “great little mothers and easy to lamb”.
“They’re like Angus cattle,” he says.
Michael is also the Chair of the Woodenbridge Paddlers Association, a group that has been working on plans for a nine mile water feature in Co Laois. However, those plans fell through due to the rare pearl oyster.
The Erkina Blueway, which will link the towns of Rathdowney and Durrow, can be used by small boats and canoes, along with riverside walking and cycling routes.
Associated work includes river management, installation of information signs, entry and exit points and upgrading of car parking areas – all approved by Laois County Council.
However, a small number of the freshwater pearl mussels have been found upstream of the village of Durrow, which has stopped a kilometer long stretch of the Blueway.
According to Michael, the project has been in the works for nearly 30 years in various forms but started in earnest in 2009.
“We have worked with Blueways Ireland, Fisheries Ireland, the local authority, Birdwatch Ireland and the National Parks and Wildlife Service Ireland,” he says. “The project has received a lot of support from so many organizations and agencies, as well as from local businesses.
“Now these very small pearl oysters have been found along a kilometer or so stretch of river that makes this part of Blueway impassable. The problem focuses on the in-stream work.
“Ways around this problem are currently being studied and we have spent €20,000 on surveys, but until we know what is happening there is no point in putting up signage etc. along the route.
“Many potential-creating businesses such as canoe and leisure rentals and cafes are being hampered.”
Several local politicians were involved in the project, along with junior finance minister Seán Fleming, who raised the issue of pearl oysters in the Dáil.
Michael says the situation is “frustrating as there is so much tourism potential here because of the river and the amenities it can provide.
“So many companies in the area have contributed financially to make this project a reality. There were a lot of visitors here in June, July and August and that needs to be used even more.
“If we hadn’t tackled the issue of pearl oysters, I think the whole project would have ended last year.”
https://www.independent.ie/business/farming/rural-life/why-this-laois-farmers-pedigree-angus-are-such-a-big-hit-with-local-dairy-farmers-42016650.html Why this Laois farmer’s purebred Angus are such a huge hit with local dairy farmers