Young Farmer: James Kelly


This week, Kevin spoke to sheep and Suckler farmer, James Kelly, from the hills of Donegal. Read his story in full below.

Young Farmer: James Kelly

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  • 3 mths ago

This week, Kevin spoke to sheep and Suckler farmer, James Kelly, from the hills of Donegal. Read his story in full below.

Name: James Kelly

Age: 34

Farm: Suckler and sheep operation.

Location: Burnfoot, Co. Donegal.

James Kelly and his family come from beside the small village of Burnfoot in Co. Donegal, his mother’s home farm. It is here that he and his family run a small Suckler operation as well as a flock of sheep.


The farm has been in the family for hundreds of years and many generations, with their humble abode over 200 years old. The farm, James admit, was smaller years ago, but the family have added neighbouring lands to the ranks over the years, gradually increasing their holding. They farm some commonage lands, on Scalp Mountain, while they also rent out a farm in his father’s native Buncrana. James is also on the verge of completing the building of his own humble abode.

“The family farmhouse is over 200 years old, which gives you an example of how long we have been here”, James said.

Not only does James run the farm at home, but he also manages to juggle a full-time career in an arcade, at the same time! Though James says the arcade is very accommodating and understanding during lambing season. He works nights, meaning any jobs can be done before he hits for an leaba in the morning.

“We have a hobby farm if I’m being honest”, said the modest James.

The Kelly’s run the farm, which has been in their family for over 200 years, with between 15-20 head of cattle and 130 sheep in total. The cattle range in continental breeds, from Belgian Blue to Angus and Herefords. The cattle are all out-calved by the family, meaning they are put to pasture prior to giving birth. There are due to calf very soon and James says the family feel out-calving provides a healthier option, while it also ensures new-borns are less susceptible to disease.

“We have a few cows due to calf soon, so we put them out for calving...Its cleaner to have them calving outside, there is fewer infections and disease and that,”, James noted.

On the sheep side of things, the family have approximately 30 hoggets, with the rest ewes, due soon for lambing. These consist of a varied list of breeds, from mostly Texel to Suffolk to Black-faced ewes.

How he got into farming:

“It’s basically my father’s farm”, James explained.

“He has sort of retired now, so I am doing all of the work and working the full-time job as well.”, he added.

James joked of having years of ‘unwanted’ farming experience, which he says is perhaps the reason why he was drawn into the industry. He always intended on taking up farming, which is why he does what he does.

“I always loved farming. It’s always been an interest of mine.”, he explained to Kevin.

“I would be more into sheep, the grounds are just too wet for cattle”, he added.

Future:

At 34-years young, James hasn’t been in full control of the farm for too long. He hopes to keep the farm plugging away as it always has been, without implementing too many changes.

“I hope to continue it on as it is, as it is kind of a hobby farm, and keep it similar to the way it is”, James said.

James says he is happy with how things are going at the moment, though he has no immediate plans to increase numbers or try out different genetics, as of yet. Although not farming fulltime at the minute, he admits this may not be too far into the future.

“Maybe I will in the future (go fulltime farming), but in the short-term future, it will stay as it is. Having a fulltime wage coming in (from employment) is more beneficial to me at the moment,”, he said.

Advice for others and Challenges:

When asked if he could go back in time and give himself advice before taking control of the farm, James said he would advise anyone to pursue the green-cert first. Although he has yet to get it himself, he feels it would be greatly beneficial to any first-time farmers.

“The green cert would be a good thing to do…Its something I’ll do in the future,”, he said.

He said getting some sort of agri-based education should be made a priority, for anyone looking to pursue a full-time career in farming. He noted that some types of farming can be challenging, such as Suckler farming, though he says his family farm is ok due to having small numbers. He noted that it is a very challenging sector, made even more difficult by the terrible spell of weather.

“Because we have smaller numbers we are not too badly off ourselves, but weather-wise it has been difficult for everyone.”, James advised.

"the ground, especially here in Donegal, is very challenging. There is an awful lot of rain all year round, so any dry weather that comes, you have to be prepared to do what you can as it could be raining again in no time. Last year was really bad with lack of fodder and the flooding here in Inishowen. It hit a lot of people hard, ourselves included", he added.

What keeps James farming:

For most, it is difficult, to sum up in a few words why agriculture has drawn them in. James though has many different reasons as to why he loves what he does.

Not only does he enjoy the freedom and fresh air involved, he is also a keen animal enthusiast.

“I love dealing with animals and just being outside in the fresh air,”, James stated.

He also listed the job satisfaction gained from successful work throughout the year and practices as yet another reason why he loves what he does.

"I love Springtime, lambing and calving with new life coming into the world. It is something else, especially if it's a difficult birth and its a successful one makes it all worthwhile.", he said.

James Kelly may run what he calls a small ‘hobby’ farm, though he still manages to do so, whilst juggling a full-time career off-farm and with a smile on his face. Such is his passion for the cause and the industry, that this is unlikely to end, anytime soon. James will continue doing Suckler farmers proud and keeping the farm going, for what we can only hope is another few centuries, in the hills of Donegal.

James is on Snapchat today, don't forget to see how he gets on at 'thatsfarming'.



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