Gilligan’s Farm, Four Mile House, Co. Roscommon is a business with a difference and has been in operation for one century, spanning four generations. Father and son duo Alan and Padraic are currently running the show.
A musical ear
They are one of Ireland’s only family-owned and run farming and butcher-operations in Ireland. The complete process is carried out on their own premises, ranging from rearing to slaughtering the animals, right up to packaging, labelling and selling, this all takes place on their on-site abattoir and purpose-built production & packaging area. Their originality does not halt there, however.
What many cannot believe is that the enterprise has also a specifically-fitted sound system, with an amplifier, a speaker and an iPod playing on a loop in the shed, installed especially for the animals. There is one rather interesting story behind the installation and the idea was inspired by Alan’s father, Padraic.
“In the past, my grandmother used to sing to a cow when she was milking her, with the possibility of yielding a little more milk. My father came up with the idea to introduce this into the shed.” Alan explained.
“Cattle identify with people’s voices so we play Brendan O’Dowd songs by Percy French, a songwriter from Frenchpark. We play the same music in the abattoir when we bring them over in small batches for slaughter. They are in an environment that they recognise and this helps to keep stress levels low, which is paramount.” Alan explained.
A Family Tradition
The history of the farm springs all the way back to 1915-the time of Tom Gilligan who was responsible for kick-starting the farming tradition. With a keen passion for producing beef and lamb, Padraic bravely took the plunge and purchased a shop, opening the doors to the general public in the early 1990s.
“It was a new venture for him at the time. He had no experience in butchery. An abattoir was located at the back of the shop and that is how we got introduced into the wholesale part of the business.” Alan told That’s Farming.
The tradition continued on for yet another generation, as Alan, Padraic’s son eagerly joined the family business.
The father and son duo were brave in their next move and a state-of-the-art abattoir with an EU Export licence was constructed adjacent to the farm in 2000.
“A lot of older abattoirs in the country were run down and a notable cash injection would be required to bring theirs up to the standards required,” Alan explained.
The business has expanded over the years with two major extensions, including a de-boning line and a range of value-added products.
“Everything is done next door to the farm,” Alan explained.
The enterprise offers a well-varied product range to their dedicated client base. For one particular customer, the Gilligan’s do-over seventy different lines.
“We make all the products from scratch, so we have a busy team so it’s all hands on deck,” Alan explained.
Over the past number of years, the family have devised a new specific burger recipe and are already reaping the rewards, being a recipient of major awards. They have also recently launched a new recipe in Jamie Oliver’s restaurant in Dundrum.
The majority of the animals are reared on the farm and slaughtered on the farm.
“We are trying to add as much value to our carcass as possible, as this is going to drive our business forward,” Alan explained.
Nutrition is a key focus for the Gilligan’s when it comes to beef production. All the ingredients required in the animal's diet are grown on the farm where possible, including the growth of the first and second cut of silage, which is of good quality and has a high DM content.
Work is completed in close conjunction with Devenish Nutrition, Alltech and Gerry Giggons, a Bovine Nutritionist. All animals are raised in a stress-free environment and have access to straw bedding as opposed to slats.
“We really focus on our nutrition to make sure that our animals are thriving properly. If you can keep them happy and keep them thriving, you get a really consistent piece of beef that is well-marbled and tastes well.” Alan explained.
Always up to speed with fluctuating market trends, the family have made the transition from Continental-cross with heavy carcasses to Aberdeen Angus and Hereford in recent years.
“We find it difficult to sell cuts from those U grade animals, as the steaks can be rather large, so we are now moving towards Angus and Herefords. They are easier fed and finished and have a smaller carcass. Once the animals have the correct fat cover and the marble is right, they are then slaughtered. ” Alan explained.
The family have secured many prestigious awards for their business, but have also scooped silverware for their actual food produce. In 2015, the Gilligan’s won the Great Taste Awards, U.K., winning gold stars for flat-iron steak and rib-eye burgers. In the same year, a Blas na hEireann silver award for their burger range was claimed.
The following year, the family swept the boards at the European Angus Society steak competition, coming out on top in the categories for fillet, sirloin, rib-eye and striploin. The family also scooped the overall champion title at the event.
“That had never been done before, so it was a fantastic achievement,” Alan explained.
Two gold stars for their T-bone steak at the Great Taste Awards, along with an award from Blas na hEireann for their fillet steak are among their achievements this year.
Purchasing their product range
Products are available to purchase in many outlets including Joyce’s Supermarket in Galway, Londis in Roscommon, a number of private shops and local stockists.
They have major deals with leading restaurants and hotels including Ashford Castle, Delphi Lodge in Connemara, Chapter One in Dublin and Jamie Oliver’s restaurant in Dundrum.
The future will continue to shine brightly for Gilligan’s Farm. Both the farm and the factory have room for expansion, so this will be an area of focus over the next number of years, as the infrastructure is available to allow for further developments.
Once a specific niche market is identified, Alan has intentions to focus more on international markets, increasing exports.
“There is great potential and we are continuing to grow. I would love to increase exports, as we have done some work in Prague and Italy before. It is something that we want to do more in the future.” Alan concluded.
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