Born and raised on a mixed farm near Newcastle West in Co. Limerick, Agriculture has always been to the forefront of the life of the Leahy family and Norma in particular.
The 21-year-old hails from a sheep and beef background, with her father, Jim, also having worked in the calf export industry for many years. This is not where the agricultural influence ends either, as Norma and the Leahy family also run their own dairy goat enterprise, milking a tribe of over 200 Saanen goats with all milk used in the production of the family’s very own cheese.
“We started making cheese in January of this year.” Norma explained to Kevin of That’sFarming.
The goat milking venture was an enterprise first coined by Norma’s brother Seamus a few years ago and the family recently the plunge and subsequently built their own milking parlour. The family are now making three different types of cheese, which is currently sold to local hotels.
“We are making original, garlic and thyme and honey and chili cheese. We are making two flavours and then an original at the moment…In the next couple of weeks we will hopefully get them into shops (for sale),” Norma said of their new goat milk enterprise.
Although to some this might seem like more than enough to keep the family of four busy, Norma has a lot more on her plate than just the family farm. The 21-year-old also works as a Drover in Killmallock and Fermoy marts, as well as working as a relief milker in the area with the FRS and a driver for a local contractor during the Summer.
“I am the kind of Jack of all trades. I work in Kilmallock in the mart on Mondays and I work in Fermoy in the mart on Tuesdays.” Norma explained.
“I do relief milking as well in the summer…I also draw silage as well for a contractor in the summer.”
Norma’s story doesn’t end there either as the Limerick native also drives her own truck and works within the calf export sector. This was an interest gained from her father and a venture she took over from Jim, who now focuses his attention on the budding goat milk enterprise.
“I then have my own lorry on the road as well. I have a cattle lorry. I buy Friesian calves for export for Cork Calf company…I have the drug of being on the road” The farmer laughed.
“Dad was at it (exporting calves) years ago…I have just taken over from him now, he is staying at home more with the goats, they are keeping him busy,” she said.
(Some of the goats due to kid)
Norma’s journey -
For Norma, there was never any alternative career path in life, rather than one involving agriculture. With this in mind and upon completing her secondary education, Norma set off to obtain her Green Certificate in Clonakilty.
“When I finished my leaving cert, I said I would do the green cert and get it over with.” Norma stated.
“If I didn’t do it then, I never would have done it, so I went to Darrara in Clonakilty,” Norma added.
Norma completed this in 2017, when she then made her return home to her native Limerick to farm on a full-time basis, where she has remained ever since. After returning home in 2017, Norma soon went on to complete her rigid licence. She also recently obtained her artic licence, in December just gone.
“I got that in October 2017.” She explained.
The system in place -
The whole Leahy family are involved in the running of the family farm, though Norma’s brother Seamus is currently working as a teacher and is only home to help during holidays and when time permits.
“It is the whole family really. Mam, dad, myself and Seamus.” said Norma when asked who helps in the running of the farm.
“Seamus is currently teaching in Dublin at the moment. He will be teaching there until the summer holidays and he will be home then after that.”
This will see the family moving more into the cheese production, whilst also developing further marketing strategies for their produce. Goat-wise, the family keep a tribe of over 200 Saanen goats, all milked in their newly constructed parlour.
“There is around 200”, said Norma of Goat numbers.
“We milk about 120 goats in an hour or an hour and a quarter.” She added.
In terms of the flock ran by the Leahy family, they usually keep an average of 80 sheep each year, with a mixture of Galway and Kerry mountain ewes and some Purebred stock. Norma and her brother, Seamus, keep some Purebred Texel sheep and take them along to shows during the summer months.
“There are about 80 sheep.” Norma said.
“Seamus and I have a couple of purebred Texels. We take them to shows and stuff.” She had.
They family also keep a number of crossbred ewes, which are also brought to the occasional show.
“We also have a few Mountain ewes, Kerry sheep. We have a couple of Galway Mountain sheep as well that I bought in Maam Cross.” said the farmer.
In terms of lambing, Seamus is the man responsible for sponging the sheep and the majority of lambing occurs at the end of December and early January. The family aim for these dates in order to produce lambs for the spring market.
“Seamus sponged the most of them and we had 25 of them lambed between Christmas day and St. Stephen’s Day.” said Norma.
“The rest are lambing away at the moment.”
When breeding, the family have experimented with different rams in recent years. They have previously run with a Texel, a Lleyn and a Rouge ram, with the Rouge no longer in use this year. Both sheep and goats are grazed together in a mixed system.
In terms of the beef system run on the farm in Newcastle West, the stock is all sourced by Norma herself, whilst out on her calf-export travels, with her father looking after them whilst she is away.
“We don’t really fatten much cattle, we just run them onto store bullocks and sell them then…Mostly Friesians,” Norma said.
The Leahy’s usually calf up to 8 cows per year and the family’s farm is run on 130-acres in total, of which 40-acres are owned, with the rest rented. Norma admits that the goat and sheep side of the farm is likely to be prioritized over the coming years, with cattle numbers cut down.
“We rent about 90-acres down the road from us.” She informed Kevin.
“We will probably cut down on the cattle and focus on the sheep and goats. There just isn’t the money out of cattle” she advised.
Future Aspirations -
As the goat milk empire expands, Norma says the parlour installed by the family is likely to as well.
“We didn’t want to invest too much until we knew we had it up and running, so we only put up a small parlour.” The farmer told Kevin of That’sFarming.
“Hopefully we are going to expand it out this year.”
This should also allow the family to increase the size of their milking herd, something they are already planning.
“In the next couple of years, we will hopefully go up to maybe 250-300 or that.” Norma said.
“Five years is when we will be expanding again. We want to get markets right and all of that first.”
Norma also recently became involved with her local Macra na Feirme Club and hopes to be more active within the club over the coming twelve months.
“I only joined there before Christmas…I would like to get more involved in it.” said the young farmer.
Norma explained to That’sFarming that she has a new truck due to arrive at some stage in 2019.
“I am in the process of buying a new one.” She said.
Otherwise, Norma is still trying to figure out her own long-term plan in life. In years to come she would, however, like to experience driving articulated lorries both in Ireland and on the Continent.
“In time I would like to drive artics. I would also like to do a couple of runs to the continent and see what it would be like.” said Norma.
(Some of the family's recently kidded does).
Why Agriculture -
It is not just the love of animals that first attracted Norma to a career in agriculture, but also the variety of the work. She admits that to her, farming is not a career, but rather a way of life. To put it simply, it is all she has ever known.
“You just kind of grow up with it…You grow fond for it and get a love for it,” Norma said.
“I was always there on the farm and if you are always there, you know no different…If you like what you are doing, you will never work a day in your life,” She concluded.
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