John Phelan of Kilkenny was celebrating on the double at the 2018 Zurich Farm Insurance Farming Independent Farmer of the Year Awards back in November. The 35-year-old walked away with the ‘Beef Farmer of the Year’ and ‘Excellence in Farm Safety’ accolades. He revealed the secrets of his success to Irish Tractor & Agri…
The Zurich Farm Insurance Farming Independent Farmer of the Year Awards are all about recognising and rewarding the very best in Irish Farming.
A producer of top quality cattle, John Phelan impressed the judges with how he has risen to the challenges of rising consumer, processor and environmental challenges.
John, who farms with his brother Tadhg and father Tim, is the 5th generation at Blanchville House, Dunbell. His mother Monica runs a country guest house and self-catering business, Blanchville House Kilkenny (www.blanchville.ie).
Equally renowned for his talents on the hurling field, John lined out at full-back on the Kilkenny SHC winning Clara teams of 2013 and ’15. In the hurling off season, he plays rugby with Kilkenny RFC. Not surprisingly, given his sporting background, he emphasised the importance of the ‘team’ when it came to the family farm.
“It’s nice to get a bit of recognition for the hard work that goes into the farm all year round and it’s very much a team effort here working alongside my brother and dad,” he commented. “It is great to have others to bounce ideas off. My other siblings also helped on the farm at some stage and still do in ways today.
“Working alongside my brother Tadhg allows us both to have at least one day away from the farm to concentrate on other interests. My partner Veronica also gives me great support and she has great patience to understand farm life. It’s a life that can be difficult on everyone as we rely heavily on the weather and Ireland’s extreme weather of late was challenging to say the least!
“We are very much a small cog in a big wheel and are trying to do our best to generate an income to support our families and, hopefully, leave the lands in better condition for the next generation. In every team there are great coaches and I have had two of the best in my mum and dad.
“We farm alongside our neighbouring cousin Eamon and his dad Edward with the tillage operation and this can have synergy effect on the beef operation in respect of extra labour and hire of machines during busy times like silage etc.”
John finishes 300 to 400 continental beef heifers, mostly Limousin/Charolais cross. He buys in stores at 1 to 2-year-olds and finishes them under 30 months. He uses a grass rotation system with emphasis on farm infrastructure such as farm roadways, a fenced paddock system and water troughs.
Cattle are wintered on slatted houses with rubber mats. A new shed was erected three years ago to increase the scale and efficiency of the farm. The main focus is on grass utilisation and he uses Pasture Base for grass measuring. The family has a separate tillage enterprise and all grass, straw and grain from the farm is fed to the stock.
“Our main focus is on grass utilisation and management. We operate a grass based system, grass is our green gold! The focus is on early turn out to grass in the Spring. We try and grow as much grass as we can within the rules and regulations. We operate a rotational grazing system over 45 paddocks on 60ha and reseed approximately 10% a year as our reseeding programme.
“Silage quality is a main focus as it makes up the bulk of our feed for winter which determines the meal requirements needed to feed our stock to keep up animal performance.”
Nothing is left to chance when it comes to safety on the Phelan farm. John emphasises the importance of animal handling for safety when dealing with large numbers.
“Our handling facilities are designed for ease of movement of man and animals. We have adapted a head scoop flip over the water trough which allows us to empty it without entering the pen with the animals. We wear gas monitors when agitating slurry.
“We aim to have a place for everything and everything has its place. All sheeted doors are sliding and we have a clean as you go policy. All doors and gates into the farm are locked for restricted access while the machinery and equipment serviced on a regular basis. Personal Protective Equipment is supplied to staff and visitors when required.”
From a sustainability perspective, the Phelan family source stock and feed and fertiliser locally to reduce their supply chain carbon footprint. A member of GLAS, In addition, utilisation of more organic fertilsers (slurrys and FYMs), better grass utilisation to reduce meal inputs, use of home grown feed, and solar panels on dwelling house.
John, who qualified with an agricultural science degree from WIT, Waterford, is a member of the KT Kilkenny finisher discussion group.
“After graduating from WIT I gained valuable experience working with Dawn Meats on a graduate programme. I spent a year in Ireland and then five years in Wales but home was always where the heart was and I was lucky that dad and the family had built up a good foundation to allow me come home and earn a living,” he concluded.
Phelan Family Farm
Taken from Irish Tractor & Agri magazine Vol 7 No 1, February/March 2019