Martin Cole has been farming full-time since 2016, but took over his family farm in 2016, with his father taking a step back due to illness.
He hails from the Tullow region of Co. Carlow, where he farms just over 90-acres, with 314 ewes gone to lamb, All of which, are due to begin lambing on the 1st of March. The flock consists of a mixture of breeds, from Tullow ewes, to Mule ewes to Belclare crosses.
Martin is farming full-time, whilst also working part-time off the farm. As mentioned above, the 29-year-old took over the farm just over a year and a half ago, with his father leaving it up to him, due to illness.
“I farm it myself, my father got sick last spring and took a step back. I took over the family farm then,” Martin told Kevin.
It was always his intention to follow a career in agriculture, which encouraged him to pursue his dream in college.
“There was nothing else I wanted to do, bar farming,”, said Martin.
The family had kept cattle, though they got out of them recently, due to their land being used for sheep and also due to his father retiring.
“It was hard to keep the cattle. Sheep took more of a priority,” Martin admitted.
“I only got farming in 2016 in my own name and sheep were the best, low-cost option,” he said.
Martin sells one-third of any lambs to the factory, while the other two-thirds are sold as stores. He buys in his ewes in as hoggets, usually in August at Tullow’s first show and sale. He is though, hoping to start keeping ewe replacements going forward, if that is possible.
“Personally, farmers are the best customers, Store lambs averaged €83 or €84 this year,”, said Martin.
“With no meal or nothing. It is a low-cost system. Ewes don’t get any meal until a few weeks before lambing...It is all grass, bar coming up to lambing”, he informed Kevin.
He completed his Green certificate, upon completion of school. This was completed in Kildalton Ag college (2006/7) and following that he continued his studies in Gurteen Ag College(2007/8). This is where Martin completed the advanced cert in Livestock management.
Martin is an avid Macra member and even took home the FBD/Macra Young Sheep farmer of the year award in Castlebar last year. Martin finds Macra a very useful resource and says it is not only an excellent source of information for young farmers but holds great social benefits also.
“It is a big help (Macra), especially for young farmers, where they can meet up with other young farmers, like myself, and talk about different aspects of their farm and farming in general,” he informed ThatsFarming.
“It is a social event too and a great way of meeting people,” he added.
Martin also noted that some of the advisors, such as James Barber, offered him and others valuable advice and tips. He is also a member of the local Carlow to Cork Tractor run Vintage club, responsible for organizing the tractor run every year.
Martins Land, pictured above.
Martin noted that sourcing land is a major problem, not only for him, but the industry as a whole, with prices sharply on the rise.
“It is just so hard to get land. It is making crazy money,” he said.
“That is the hardest part, getting land,” he adds.
Martin says that the future does not look too rosy, for those, like himself, looking to expand their holdings. Martin also says labour is a big problem, with most sheep farmers struggling to find someone to take on. He also said it is vital to have a good dog by your side, as it makes life an awful lot easier.
As mentioned, he is contemplating making the switch from buying in ewes as hoggets, to keeping ewe replacements, though that’s yet to be fully decided yet. He is hoping to keep his stock numbers between 300 and 350 sheep in 2018.
Not only this, but he hopes that this year he may be able to get more land and eventually begin farming cattle again, sucklers.
“Going forward we might try and get more land and maybe get back into cattle,” he added.
“Maybe suckler farming, I know there is a lot getting out of sucklers, but that could be an option,” he said.
These plans are well down the pipeline at the moment, with Martin’s more immediate plans to keep cattle like a B&B service.
“This year, my plan in the next year or two, is to take in cattle and begin keeping cattle, like a cattle B&B,” he informed Kevin.
“That is the plan for this year...it is all land dependent,” he added.
He says this system, would mean he’s not reliant on grass, which can be kept for his ewes, as any cattle kept would be gone by winter. He says this would benefit him greatly, as it is a continuous payment each month, which will allow him to spend on other sides of the operation. He hopes to keep between 20-30 cattle this year, on this basis, if the stocking rate allows.
“It’s hard to get finance to buy stock, so this is a handy way to save up and buy some cattle,” he said.
When asked if he had any advice to give those looking to follow the path he has forged, Martin was full of helpful tips. He strongly urged people to get as much advice from other farmers as possible.
“Get as much advice as possible. If you have to pay for it, it will be the best money you can spend,” he advised.
“Talk to young farmers and talk to people who are after walking the path and keep your head screwed on”, he stated.
Martin continued by saying it is very easy to get misled and says it is very easy for people to tell you big ideas, which could set you up for failure.
“It is all about keeping it as simple as possible,” he advised,
“Don’t go over the top and have your figures done,” he said.
Why he loves what he does:
To some, getting up at 5:30am in the morning might seem like torture, but not Martin, such is his love for all things sheep. He gains a great satisfaction and sense of calm from rising early every morning to inspect his flock. This and lambing he lists as the most satisfactory part of his job.
“I love this time of year and I love the early mornings,” Martin said.
“Sheep are not solely dependent on you, you are tied but you are not fully tied and you can still have a life outside of the farm...There is nothing nicer than getting up at half five or six in the morning, on a fine February or March morning, to go out and just look at the sheep,” he added.
Martin also gets great satisfaction during lambing season, this is when he gets to witness the fruits of all his hard work throughout the year, making it all worthwhile.
“You see what your year’s work, or the last six months, is after coming to…You get to see how the lamb is getting on...it’s just nice to see,”, he concluded.
At 29, Martin already has an extensive flock on his hands and is officially the top sheep farmer in the Macra ranks for 2017. Martins thirst for the industry and the sheep sector, in particular, is abundant. Therefore, it is logical to assume that 2018 will be just as successful for the Carlow man.
Note: Don't forget to watch Martin taking over our Snapchat this coming Thursday, starting bright and early, it is not one to be missed!