Born and raised near Kilmacanogue in Co. Wicklow, agriculture has always held a significant role in the life of young farmer, James Doyle.
He was reared on his family’s sheep farm, which was run by James’ grandfather. This meant that almost every Spring was spent helping his grandfather during lambing, whilst summers were spent making hay bales with his cousins in nearby Roundwood.
“I'm 36 and since I've been a kid getting outdoors and working with animals have played a big part of my life.” James Doyle told Kevin Forde of That’sFarming.
“In springtime, I'd be out helping my grandfather with ewes lambing, while summers were spent with cousins baling hay in Roundwood.” He added.
This is not where the agricultural influence ends either, as James’ grandfather and father ran a meat business within the locality. This gave James a true insight into the meaning of farm to fork.
“My father and grandfather ran a meat business nearby.” James said.
“So, you could say that growing up in that environment gave me a humbling sense of what "farm to fork" really meant.”
James now splits his days between working as a solicitor, the farm and spending time with his wife, Aoife, and his young daughter.
James’ journey/Education -
Although having always loved the agricultural sector and the way of life connected to a career as a farmer, James felt during his school years that he would be best served focusing his efforts on his education.
“I've always loved and respected farming as a way of life. At the same time, I personally had to face up to some facts.” He explained.
Upon assessing all of the options, James realised it would be difficult to make a living out of a full-time farming career in his home county and subsequently set about obtaining the best-leaving certificate he possibly could.
“It would be very hard to set up a farm enterprise with enough scale to be able to earn a living out of. So, I knuckled down and once I had my leaving cert under my belt I went to college.” He said.
This led to the Wicklow native studying to become a solicitor and it was after this, that James’ career as a sheep farmer truly began.
“I then went on to qualify as a solicitor.” He explains.
“It was during those years that I bought a few ewes myself and worked at applying what I had learned as a youngster.”
James has now been splitting his time between a fulltime career off-farm as a solicitor and a farmer and he counts his lucky stars he is able to live the best of both worlds.
“When I listen to farmers who I know with mixed Suckler and sheep enterprises, I get a real sense of how lucky I am to have a day job that pays a wage and at the same time allows me to work with livestock alongside that.” He said.
The Farm -
At the moment, James runs what he describes as a “small flock” of between 30-40 ewes, all mountain-cross types.
These are kept on mountainous lands in the county and it is because of this fact, that James decided to keep the blackface types.
“I run a small flock of mountain cross ewes.” James explained to Kevin.
“It's high enough where I am, so I find that blackface base as a sure-footed and durable option.”
James also noted the excellent maternal instincts of the breed, another reason why he chose to go down this genetic route. In recent years, James decided to alter the genetics of the flock and he subsequently crossed some Shropshire sheep through.
“I had heard good things about the Shropshire breed, so I crossed one in a couple of years back and I'm happy enough with the result.” He noted.
All sheep on the Wicklow based farm are kept out all year round, except during lambing season. This generally takes place in April, with breeding commencing shortly afterwards. James aims to sell any lambs born on the farm in the later markets of Autumn.
“They're out all year round, except at lambing which takes place in April.” said James.
“Then it's all about getting the lambs onto good grass in the summer months and selling them on in the Autumn just before the cycle runs again.”
Future Aspirations -
In terms of the future, James has no plans on implementing any changes to his farm system over the coming years and months. He will continue as he has been since making his return to farming, juggling a young family, full-time career and his beloved flock.
“Right now, I'm not planning on changing what I do.” James stated.
“I have a young family and a busy day job working in the co-op sector.”
In terms of the future of the sheep sector, James is of the opinion that there are some positive signs for the coming year. He said new markets need to be targeted in order for Irish farmers to have a greater chance of increasing sales.
“I think there are some positive signs for sheep farmers, but it's largely reliant on external factors.” said the father of one.
“New markets need to be targeted. If China and other large consumer markets can offer a glimmer of light for Irish beef farmers, then there must be ways of doing something similar with Irish lamb.”
He also pointed to the excellent reputation Irish lamb holds throughout the world, as another reason to be positive about the future.
“We have an ideal climate for grass-fed produce and our international reputation is strong too.” He said.
“Looking closer to home there are some creative attempts being made by Irish farmers. Mountain lamb and organic options. You have to respect those efforts.” James reiterated.
Why Ag -
Father of one James, loves whag he does, as he has since a very young age.
"The reason I enjoy agriculture as much as I do is my family." said James.
"My parents and to be fair my grandparents too gave me the chance to immerse myself in it from a young age. The bug took hold, and I'm still hooked today. For better or for worse!" James concluded.
Would you like to keep up to date with @TheWicklowShepherd otherwise known as James? You can do so via his flock’s official Facebook page here.
Are you a young farmer between the ages of 18 and 40 like James? Fancy sharing your story and being featured on our weekly ‘Young Farmer’ series? If so, contact us now at firstname.lastname@example.org.