Running Ballynevin Organic Farm in Ballynevin, Cullahill, Co. Laois is a family affair for husband-and-wife-duo Aaron and Lorraine Delaney and sons - Liam and Darragh.
Aaron’s great-grandfather initially purchased the farm from his sister and father-in-law back in 1910.
The farm has been kept within the family ever since and thirteen years ago, fourth-generation farmer Aaron took over the operation in his own right following the sudden death of his father.
As the Delaneys have always farmed with nature, they officially converted to organics in 2012 and registered with the Organic Trust in February-2015 to “build customer confidence”.
“Organic farming used to be called farming by our ancestors; we use old tried and trusted methods of farming alongside new technologies like dung sampling farm veterinary plans and Herdwatch.” Aaron Delaney explained to Catherina Cunnane of That’s Farming.
The Delaneys run a beef and sheep organic production enterprise on a 32-hectare holding.
With an interest in the preservation of rare breeds, Aaron introduced Irish Moiled cattle to the pastures in the form of an in-calf heifer - Matilda - and in-calf cow - Maple - from the Derrynagarra Herd in 2017.
“We are hoping that our breeding Irish Moiled will help to protect these beautiful animals for future generations to come as this beef would be the first beef our ancestors consumed.”
“We aim to breed Moiled cattle that are true-to-type, with strong maternal traits and ability to withstand harsh conditions as they are outwintered on our farm.”
Organic Beef Production
Along with breeding their own animals, the Delaneys source organic beef cattle between the age of 8-12-months from four local reputable organic farms.
Up to five organic cattle, which are fed grass and minerals are slaughtered on a monthly basis at Good Herdmans - Organic Meats.
“We offer full or half heifer for sale directly from the farm. We can take them to an organic certified abattoir to be killed and hung for 28-days; this can be packed for the freezer.” Aaron explained.
“Organic beef an environmentally-friendly choice, with numerous health benefits; this is why we have gone down the grass-fed route.”
On the sheep front, the Delaney’s ram lambs are sold to Eddie Mulhall - Coolnowle House or Irish Country Meats. The family sell full or half grass-fed prime lambs directly to customers.
Weed control and rotational grazing are at the core of the family’s organic farming practices, in order to prevent worms and the maintain the animal’s optimum health.
Aaron and his family opted for Easycare sheep, a breed that was initially developed for its ease of lambing; low maintenance and meat production qualities, particularly their meat yields.
They purchased thirty-five Easycare ewe lambs and an Easycare ram in 2017 from Dessie Donohoe, Oldcastle, Co. Meath.
“They shed their fleece in the summer; they do not need shearing and yet the offer excellent meat yields and lambing ratios.”
“The fleece decomposes as a natural soil conditioner. They can withstand heat stress and the dense nature of their fleece means they can withstand harsh weather.”
These qualities have made the breed suitable for the Delaney’s enterprise, as the flock is outwintered and fed grass and minerals.
“The high point is collecting our beef from the abattoir and bringing it home to our family my wife and our two boys Liam and Darragh knowing that they are eating the best protein nature can”
“I get great satisfaction when I talk to customers who have eaten organic beef and lamb and know the difference.”
Like several farmers, future planning revolves are the availability of fodder and winter feeding.
To combat a fodder deficit, the Delaneys sowed 7-acres of organic forage rape to stretch fodder reserves.
They plan to outwinter twenty-five weanlings to reduce straw demand; the family has secured sixty bales, although they initially hoped to purchase one-hundred bales like previous years.
The Laois farmers hope to expand their current flock of Easycare sheep and they will venture to England later this year to acquire a number of rams.
The plan is to increase the flock to 120 ewes, with a view to grazing the ewes and their followers with sixty 12-24-month-old cattle; the animals will be moved every four days as part of a 28-day rotation system.
“The cattle and sheep will be grazed together so we get the benefit of mixed grazing - fewer worms as our rotation is 28 days and the worm lifecycle is 21 days.” Aaron highlighted.