At 37-years-old, sheep farming is all Barry Clarke ever hoped for.
Based out of Beltra in West Co. Sligo, Barry was born and raised on a farm, with the Clarkes having always kept a substantial flock and herd of suckler cows throughout his youth. This, in reality, is when Barry first got bitten by what he calls an “addiction”, something he still happily retains to this day.
Barry not only runs his own flock and farm, inherited from a neighbour many years ago, but also helps out with the running of the family farm also. Barry runs his flock on the 27-acres of land, which he now calls his own.
“I have my own farm and I help out my father on his farm as well”, Barry explained to That’sFarming.
“I was lucky enough as when I was 21, I inherited a farm off a neighbour”, he continued.
This is where Barry’s journey into the sector well and truly began and marked the beginning of what is now an agricultural career in its 16th year, officially. Barry had kept up on twenty suckler cows at one stage himself, running a CH bull with a herd of mainly CHx or Lmx cows. However, Barry recently sold all of the calves from the year, only to hand over all monies made to the local co-op for feed. This is what led to Barry re-evaluating his system and implementing changes going forward, after estimating that he was losing thousands every year feeding his suckler herd.
“I built up my herd over the years up to having twenty cows in calf, which was good going. One year I sold all of the calves and I had to give all of the money to a local co-op and I still owed them money”, he said.
“I sat down and done the books on it and I was losing two to three grand every year on suckler cows”, he added.
This led to Barry selling all of his twenty-strong suckler herd, bar two cows, with the young farmer instead focussing his efforts on increasing his flock size, which now stands at 150-strong.
Barry says the Clarkes have been farming in the area for as long as he can remember, with his grandfather having farmed nearby in Lismacbryan in the area.
“They had a mountain farm with a bit of good land as well. They would have kept a lot of sheep”, he said.
Always Ag -
As mentioned, Barry always harboured hopes of pursuing a career in agriculture.
This is what led to the sheep farmer studying a Masters in Agricultural Science in the University College Dublin. From here, Barry went onto a career in banking with Bank of Ireland in Sligo, following advice and a gentle push from one of his aunts. Here he now works as a financial advisor, helping farmers and members of the public.
“I completed a masters degree in Agricultural Science in UCD...I am working as a financial advisor here (Bank of Ireland)”, he said.
Barry said his education was aimed at pursuing a career in agriculture, though sometimes life has other plans, not that Barry is dissatisfied with how things panned out.
“I was hoping to get a job in agriculture, in the department of agriculture or something like that”, he said.
“But I couldn’t get into it and I fell into the bank job. I am very settled here now and I am kind of an agricultural advisor with the bank now, so I am using the qualification”, he explained.
The 37-year-old says his passion for farming could be described as an illness by some and is something which was bred into him by his father.
"You could nearly call it a type of condition or sickness, the want in you to be a farmer”, said Barry.
“You are born with it I think. If you're reared around it you just can’t help it”, Barry laughed.
As previously stated, Barry is currently working with a flock of 150 mountain Blackface ewes on his 27-acre holding, which he began 16-years ago in 2002. Though in reality, his agricultural career began a lot earlier at the tender age of 12.
“I had always bought sheep as a young lad. I actually bought my very first sheep when I was twelve”, said Barry.
His farming journey did not begin as one would hope, as upon checking on is newly purchased sheep one day he found one dead due to a broken neck after a freak accident.
“It could have potentially put me off for life, but thankfully it didn’t”, Barry said.
The farmer also retains a share in some mountainous commonage lands, though admits the sheep tend to get lost up there.
“I have a share in the mountain too, but I don’t have too many on it as they go missing”, he said.
Barry sticks to the Mountain ewe breeds on his farming enterprise, though he did also keep some Bluefaced Leicester sheep at one stage up until recently, with a Blue-faced ram now kept to run with the ewes.
“There is a mix in the flock between Lanark, Perths, and a few Mayo types. I run a Blue Leicester ram with them “, Barry noted.
This is done to produce Mule lambs and the Clarke take part in a sale each and every year in their local Coolaney Mart, as part of the North West Mule Breeders association. This will be held this coming September, with the Clarkes selling ewe lambs for breeding.
With regards to breeding practices, Barry aims to have rams out with ewes for early October. This is done with the aim of having all ewes lambed by Paddy’s day. Due to his full-time banking career, Barry has no choice but to synchronize the ewes as much as possible and get lambing completed within a four week period.
“I try to get them all lambed within a month, as I have to take off work for it”, he noted.
All ram/wether lambs are finished on the farm by Barry, something also done by his father., with any ram lambs deemed not fit for killing kept on over the winter months for further fattening. These are then sold on at Easter.
“The plan is always to not do that, but sometimes you have to”, Barry said.
Barry carries out the entirety of shearing work on the farm, something which keeps him busy during summer evenings, as he also carries out shearing duties for his father’s huge flock.
“My father has 700-800 sheep...I shear about 1,000 a year, I think it’s enough”, Barry joked.
Ever the hard worker, Barry also helps out with the running of his father’s farm when possible. His father currently runs a substantial flock with up on 700/800 sheep and he also keeps 15-16 Suckler cows and raises store heifers for beef. His father is actually an agent for one of the local factories and drives his own lorry, meaning they can carry out the complete process themselves.
“He buys heifers for the summer, sometimes for the winter, and fattens them”, Barry explained.
“He then either kills them or sells them. He might keep the odd one for springing, but he would kill the most of them...He’s busy enough”, Barry continued.
As mentioned, the Clarkes will attend the annual North West Mule Breeders sale this coming September 1st, at their local Coolaney mart, something they are now preparing for.
With regards to the future of the farm, Barry has some exciting plans and aims to increase his land holding at some stage, providing the right land becomes available.
“This is what comes with being born with the affliction of being a farmer”, Barry said.
“The next plan I have is to buy another farm...to expand”, he added.
If this occurs, then Barry aims to increase the size of his flock, though he admits the increase in stamp duty has created a hurdle for him and other farmers alike.
“The stamp duty is really putting me off at the minute”, he stated.
Some of the Mules Barry will be selling off.
Why Ag -
Born and bred into it, for Barr,y there was never any other future in mind which didn’t involve agriculture in some shape or form.
Barry not only enjoys the job satisfaction, working with animals and being outdoors, but also highlighted the importance of having somewhere to go to take a break from the real working world as vital to his mental wellbeing.
“For me, it is a mental thing. I love being outside and I love the land...When I leave the office and I go outside, it is just the complete opposite”, he said.
“It is just good for the mental wellbeing, to get out of here (the bank) take off the shirt and tie, and put on the wellies”, Barry advised.
A self-proclaimed farming addict, Barry inherited his love for sheep from the land from his father and through his deep agricultural heritage. Although he admits it can be a struggle to keep every side going, he wouldn’t trade it for the world.
“It is a bit of an affliction. I don’t think I’d ever be able to leave it”, he concluded.
A sheep farmer through and through, it may seem shocking to learn that Barry has now had sheep of his own for 25 years this year. If his passion for the industry is any indication, Mr. Barry Clarke will have sheep grazing near the small village of Beltra in West Sligo, for another 25 more.