Farming and ship-to-ship transfer operations may seem like worlds apart, but for Michael Hegarty, they are the perfect combination.
The Donegal native has been employed as a mooring master at the Jubilee Oil Field, in Ghana, West Africa, since 2017.
“My father was a marine pilot on the River Foyle for over forty years and I was a marine pilot on the River Foyle for seven years up until 2015,” he told Catherina Cunnane – That’s Farming.
“Since then, I work offshore - I am a mooring master on a ship which performs ship-to-ship transfer of crude oil from a floating oil production platform to a supertanker, for onward transport and sale on the international oil markets."
Although he is based more than 8,000kms away from his home soil, Michael continues to take great pride in his family-run farm.
He runs a herd of Aubrac cattle with his wife, Fidelma, a veterinary surgeon, and three children; Peter (15), Conor (14) and Cormac (12) in Cooley, Moville, Co. Donegal. "From our farmyard, we can see Isle of Islay, Scotland and Rathlin Island," Michael explained.
Peter and Conor – who both successfully completed a Lantra-certified safe tractor driving course at Greenmount – oversee the running of the enterprise with their mother, but modern technology allows Michael to cast an eye on operations with the click of a button.
“Anywhere in the world where I have WiFi access, I can check in on the farm, due to the installation of cameras around the farmyard and calving shed.”
“I can see a cow calving in Ireland, when I’m in west Africa. My wife and children can also view and operate the camera remotely on their phones.” Michael added.
Michael stumbled across the French breed – which was first imported into Ireland in 1992 – in 2007 during a visit to the Sommet de l’Élevage.
“I came home from the show and told my wife about Aubracs. She was intrigued so we both ventured to the show the following year."
"I needed a care-free breed that required little to no maintenance, could calve with no assistance and have a hardy calf - Aubracs ticked all those boxes." Michael outlined.
Impressed by the breed’s ease of calving, milking ability, calving regularity and low maintenance cost, the Hegartys sourced their foundation females – two pedigree heifers – from a herd in Co. Sligo in 2009.
Since its inception, the Cooley herd – which now consists of eight pedigree cows, two pedigree heifers and one stock bull – has continued to grow from strength-to-strength.
“Fortunately, we have only had to assist with one calving - a first-time heifer - in the 10 years we have had Aubracs.”
“Calves are small at birth - average 35kg but are very vigorous and grow and develop muscle mass quickly after birth.”
“This is due to the combination of good milking ability of the cows and the beef characteristics of the breed. In France, Aubracs are classed as a dual-purpose breed.” Michael explained.
The family continue to make selective purchases at the Irish Aubrac Cattle Society’s annual premier show and sale which is held in Tullamore.
The Hegartys strive to breed well-conformed, functional, medium-sized, low-maintenance cows that are in the region of 600-650kg. “Aubracs are functional and they do what we want them to do.”
Progeny from Ireland’s most northernly Aubrac herd are sold in their local mart or privately from the farm. “We sell our heifers as yearlings and purchase replacements,” Michael explained.
Effective planning is key for Michael and Fidelma, due to the nature of their off-farm positions, their spring-calving herd and family life.
Roscommon native, Fidelma – who graduated from UCD in 1992 – is the sole owner of Carn Vet Clinic, Ireland’s most northernly veterinary practice, which serves the farmers of Inishowen.
“We calve our cows in April, which means that I need to be home when Fidelma’s workload increases, due to the busy lambing and calving season.”
It also suits the Hegarty’s system to put their suckler pairings straight to grass after calving, thus minimising disease risk.
“Luckily, it also coincides with the Easter holidays meaning that I can spend quality time with our children.”
“I am lucky in the sense that I can plan my work, accordingly, meaning that I’m home for Christmas, Easter and summer holidays,” Michael added.
Looking ahead, future plans for Cooley Aubracs include implementing a 24-month calving system and marginally increasing their suckler herd size to ten pedigree cows.
“Ten is the magic number – that would fit in perfectly with our farming system.”
“I would strongly consider purchasing Aubrac heifers in France at some stage in the future, perhaps at the Sommet de l’Élevage,” Michael added.
“For now, I am thoroughly enjoying my line of work off-farm and I will continue to do this for the foreseeable future.”
“The journey with Aubrac cattle – which we embarked on one decade ago – has been both successful and enjoyable and we look forward to establishing a greater presence of the Aubrac breed in Inishowen," Michael concluded.
Annual show and sale
The Irish Aubrac Cattle Society’s pre-selected pedigree show and sale will take place at Tullamore Mart, Co. Offaly on Saturday, October 26th, 2019.
18 pedigree bulls and 70 pedigree females will be offered for sale – the catalogue can be viewed here.
Animals to be penned by 10 am; judging commences at 11:30 am and the sale will follow at 1.00 pm; Tom Cox will officiate as auctioneer.