“It's a lovely place to work, it's a lovely place to be”
VOTING Mullagh family showcase a natural way to farm
A Mullagh family have spoken of how they believe farming “extensively is the future”.
“It is better for the bank, the life balance, the herd and most importantly the wildlife,” claim the Shackletons who have been announced as one of eight ‘Farming for Nature Ambassadors’.
Now in its third year the Farming For Nature campaign celebrates farmers across Ireland who manage their land in a way that sustains nature, while providing a livelihood for their family.
The Shackletons certainly appear to have ticked those boxes at their picturesque Lakeview farm, which they have worked since 1996. A brief film showcases their three stranded enterprise which includes organic beef, sheep and forestry.
They rear primarily Aberdeen Angus with some Belted Galloway at their 320 acre farm on the banks of Mullagh Lake. Organic beef is their main enterprise, where daughter Jane is at the helm.
“This has never been reseeded,” she says, ankle deep in lush green multi-species sward. “It’s relatively low input. We have corrected the soil fertility, but we’re organic so we rely heavily on red and white clover. We also have vetch as well, and we have the likes of plantain, dandelion, and lots of different types of grass as well,” she says noting that more intensive farmers are also moving in this direction to reduce nitrogen inputs.
“We try to be 100% grass fed, we don’t feed concentrates to them,” she explains, moving into a copse where a handful of Angus graze in the shade.
“We’re finishing probably 18-24 months off grass, with generally just one housing period. The trees extend our grazing season. When the weather gets wet they can come in here, or in drought as well the grass in here still grows. It gives them access to a lot more than just grassland as well, they have ivy and the leaves on the trees - they can forage and eat whatever they want.”
Daphne is grateful to the previous generations of the family who have worked the land since the 1660s and have always nurtured hedgerows “pockets of woodland”.
“These pockets of woodland support a wonderful range of wildlife: insects, birds foxes, pine martens, badgers, and recently red squirrels,” enthuses Daphne.
The farm has a traditional orchard and bee hive and Daphne is also the driving force behind the family’s one acre kitchen garden. Standing in front of parsnips and kale, she notes they are “pretty self sufficient all through the year in vegetables”.
The family also maintain 5ha of semi-natural habitats including bogs, wetland, woodland, hedgerows, hay meadows and stonewalls. A publicly assessable nature walk passes through the farm and the explanatory information panel along this route in the farm is curated by the owners.
Forestry is also a significant limb of the enterprise with 40 acres of mixed species. Ash accounts for 30% of their plantation – the rest a variety of larch, and conifers.
“The diversity has resulted in a really rich habitat,” said Jonathan who has managed this aspect for the last 22 years, and undertakes the thinnings himself.
“We are looking forward to maybe having continuous cover, which again will improve the diversity. We are never ever going to clearfell.”
Probably the most telling line in the inspirational film comes from Jonathan:
“It’s a lovely place to work, it’s a lovely place to be.”
The Shackletons are fully committed to their approach to farming and enthusiastic to share this knowledge and experience online, with groups, the local community and schools.
Dr. Brendan Dunford, a volunteer with FFN, said that “We hope that these stories – which also demonstrate that simple actions can make a big difference for the wellbeing of nature and of people - will inspire other farmers to take some small steps to look after their farm’s wildlife.
“As a society we must recognise that these farmers are deserving of our respect and support: they embody all that’s great about rural Ireland and they offer great hope for practical solutions to the climate and biodiversity crises that we face.”
The eight ambassadors will be featured at the annual Burren Winterage Weekend in October (an online event) when the winner of the public vote will also be announced. The deadline for voting is midnight Friday, October 23.