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Tomas’s Farming Week: How To Start Farming With No Capital

Patrick Bolger

| Cattle & Dairy | Grass & Crops

| Mar 6, 2017

Tomas farmer in shed with cattle

I farm at home with my father Billy, our farm is made up of 165 acres of mixed beef and tillage in Abbeyleix, County Laois.
We grow around 45 acres of spring barley every year, 8-10 acres of Fodder Beet and the rest is kept for grass. My Dad Billy tends to buy in continental store cattle, we can stock up to 100 animals and keep them until the 30 month mark, then they are sent to the factory.

Billy does the majority of work as I work full time on the Herdwatch team. At 76, Billy tries to keep the system as simple and stress free as possible. He buys all his cattle from a dealer, who knows the spec he’s after. We buy in groups of 15-20. The dealer clips all the tails and doses all the bullocks before dropping them off. The cattle then stay in these groups until they are finished and are rotated within our grazing block during the grazing period.

Spring Ploughing

The stubble fields are currently being ploughed, using our Landini Legend and 4 sod reversible kverneland plough. We used to do all the sowing ourselves but now to save time we get the local contractor in with their one pass system to sow all the barley for us.

Barley can sown in the same fields year after year without rotation however the Fodder Beet must be rotated every year to avoid crop failure.  As the Fodder Beet is harvested later in the year we must sow it in a good dry field to avoid difficulties at harvest time.

My first farming venture

In 2016, I was eager to make a start my own farming career but decided to do some research first. I posted on the Teagasc discussion group on Facebook, which is a farming forum where farmers share information, expertise and knowledge to others in the group.

Feeding Beet to the Stores

I asked for advice on the most profitable way to maximise the 9 acres of Beet tops which was already adequately fenced for cattle and maybe 40% sheep proof (one long ditch that would need temporary sheep fencing).

With the money I had at my disposal, buying cattle wasn’t really an option and with the fencing, buying sheep wasn’t really an option unless I invested some of the money into a proper sheep fence.

So with some advice from the farmer’s on the group,  I put an ad on Donedeal to rent out the beet tops. The calls came flooding in, sheep farmers and cattle farmers from near and far. Sheep farmers were put off by the amount of fencing they would have to do and I was put off by farmers from far away as I would have to do all the foddering.

In the end, I went for a local guy with 30 continental weanlings as I also heard stories of guys renting the land and not paying up. This worked out pretty well overall because when I was busy with work he would keep an eye on the animals and I would look after them the rest of the time.

We stripped grazed the beet tops and filled an old slurry tanker with water to provide water for the cattle and threw in the odd bale of silage.

I thought it was going be a walk in the park but farming never is. I got a couple of calls from neighbours to say the cattle had broken out and this was the last thing I wanted on a wet, dark evening.

Overall, it was a super experience despite the few hiccups and I made a few bob for myself without any expense. If there are other young farmers around in the same position, with a lack of capital, I would recommend contract rearing some animals or doing a B&B over the winter months to get a good feel for farming and to have that responsibility of looking after your own animals without the old fella looking over your shoulder.

The big barley field

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