It's strikes me as I travel the country documenting farming for the Irish Farmers Journal just how difficult it can be. As a Dublin guy, I'm reminded most days by farmers that 'sure you wouldn't know anything about that'. And it's true, I'm not from farming stock but I do have an interest and a strong empathy for people. I love listening to their stories. As I meet older farmers it always strikes me how spirited they are and how different their lives are to those in the cities.
Topical at the moment is the idea that Farmers don't retire. Well some do but usually from illness or lack of capacity. Most don't consider it a 'job' in the metropolitan sense of the word. They don't look forward to turning 65. The land is almost like their vocation. Each season brings new challenges. Weather can change everything, decease can take hold and animals die but farmers keep going.
This year after a fantastic summer, August came with rain and lots of it. Crops couldn't be harvested, hay was abandoned in the fields to spoil and the land turned to mush. A couple of weeks ago I met Jim Brady at the side of a small country road in Mountain Lodge, Co. Cavan. He brought me back to his farm to show me around.
Jim entering his 82nd year and has seen so much. His farm was once a dairy farm. 50 years he spent producing milk. He also spent 25 years rearing pigs. He now buys in calves and rears them to beef, typically sending them to the factory for slaughter around 22 to 24 months. He now has 40 suckler cows and 3 bulls.
Jim explains it can be difficult to sustainably make money from beef cows. It's important to keep costs down. To my friends in towns and cities, they might be forgiven for thinking that you just send a cow out to a field to eat grass. In fact you do, but in winter they are often housed in sheds and need to be fed. Jim explains that because of the rain this year he has had to bring the cows in earlier, since the beginning of September in fact. He considers his land good, but because of all the rain the land turned soft and the cattle have trampled huge areas of grass into the mud leaving a shortage of grass to feed off.
He now has to feed them in the sheds where they are now lodged Morning, noon and night and it is costing a fortune not to mention the amount of work for an 82 year old man. He worries that the silage he collected during the summer will not be enough and he will have to buy much more in the spring. He buys meal for the cows now and is using about a tonne every single week... a TONNE!
As I chat and take pictures with Jim, I'm estounded by how open and honest he is with me. His personality is so warm and his smile infectious. I'm left wondering how he keeps going in farming in his twilight years and it strikes me, farming isn't his job... Farming is Jim.