Jo Egan is a sheep and tillage farmer who lives in Inch, Co. Tipperary. He moved there with his parents in 1986, as his father John always wanted to live and work on a large block of land instead of the fragmented farm that they had previously owned.
Perched in the heart of the 250-acre site was a large period house. A decision had to be made about the restoration of the big old house as it had fallen into slight disrepair.
The other option was to build a new house on the farmland. In a rock and roll twist, the decision was taken to repair the house by hosting musicians who would be lighting up the stage of the Féile music festival.
Joe came from a very enterprising family as his parents later went on to open an award-winning restaurant. Unfortunately, it closed last year when they took retirement and Joe was too busy to sustain it himself.
Joe came into farming almost accidentally when he initially started working on the home farm with his father, as he explained: “I was one of eight children; the older boys were a good ten years older than me and they had gone to college.”
By the time Joe came of age, John was looking for some help. That ten-year gap proved very fortunate for Joe as he loves the farm and is very happy in his role.
Joe completed his green cert from Gurteen agricultural college in 2001 and did his placement on a local farm in Johnstown. John was keen for Joe to work independently, so he leased a farm where Joe operated it for eight years.
It was here that he gained invaluable experience in dealing with Co-ops and buying entitlements. “It gave me a good grounding on how to start,” said Joe.
Joe married his fiancée in 2013 and three years later, John transferred part of his farm to his son. “My dad was always into tillage."
When he came to Inch, he always tried beef and different things, but always went back to tillage”, said Joe, who also loves working with crops as it gives him a lot of freedom during the winter.
However, necessity told him that he would need to branch into another area of farming to maintain a good income.
Nearly half of Joe’s farm is made up of one hundred acres of low-lying grassland, so he decided that it would be most suitable to invest in hoggets. The other one hundred and fifty acres of higher land is then left for growing tillage.
Joe started growing catch-crops such as fodder rape and leafy turnips. His father used to hold about a hundred sheep and Joe wanted to expand on his numbers as he realised that, due to the small margins in sheep, if he grew the numbers, the margins would improve.
“We started then with three-hundred and the following year we had five-hundred” explained Joe, who now has one thousand sheep on his farm. The plan is to grow his numbers to sixteen hundred by next year.
The next step for Joe was to build a shed and install feed-barriers to increase the feeding capabilities to seven-hundred in and seven-hundred out. “I can hold up to sixteen-hundred sheep on the farm now” smiled Joe.
Joe usually starts buying his lambs in August/September and will continue buying right through January. “Those lambs will be nearly all gone by the first week in May” he explained.
After that, he will re-sow all the fields that had the catch-crop with spring crop. This year, his main crop was winter barley and spring oats.
The reason that oats does so well for Joe is down to location. Being from Tipperary, there is a large horse population and a widespread interest in equine sports.
“We like growing oats because we’re in an area where there is a lot of thoroughbreds and hunter-horses”, said Joe, who specialises in cleaning the oats specifically for the horse market.
The Egan’s ensure that they keep their oats dust-free, cracking them with care and de-awning them carefully to ensure a premium product. The oats are cleaned, dried, processed and stored on the farm.
Although Joe’s preference is tillage farming, he’s completely aware of the stresses that it can bring as he said: “Last year was a difficult year with yields, a lot of spring crops burnt badly, it was tough”.
Joe could be described as an optimistic realist as he knows that farming should be looked at in two or three year-cycles. “You always have to be saving that little bit for the rainy day” he warned, knowing that in farming, two years are never the same.
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