Based in Ballydehob, Co Cork, Skeaghanore West Cork Farm is a family-run farm which milks cows all year round and also takes care of rearing and processing fresh and cooked duck for the Irish and Eurpoean market. Irish Tractor & Agri learned more recently from Daniel Hickey – the fourth generation of farmers in his family.
These are busy times at Skeaghanore West Cork Farm and the plan in 2020, according to Daniel Hickey, is to “keep on being progressive and push on”.
Last year saw the company mark 25 years since it was set-up by Daniel’s parents, Helena and Eugene Hickey – a third generation of farmers on which the Skeaghanore Duck business is set upon.
Growing up, Eugene and Helena always had geese and turkeys for Christmas and in 1994 –– Eugene and his wife Helena started with 30 ducks, killed and plucked by hand and started supplying the local market of shops and restaurants.
The rest, as they say, is history.
“My mother would have come from an entrepreneurial background, as well as a farming background,” Daniel explained.
“When they started in ’94 things grew nicely. There was a year round demand for ducks and it just grew from there.
“They built up a very good West Cork brand and put up a small production facility in the farm yard.
“In 2004, there was a new purpose rearing facility built.”
Having spent some time in England, it was 1988 when Eugene and Helena married and settled on the family farm in Skeaghanore.
The breed of duck at Skeaghanore West Cork Farm is Pekin duck and as it is so closely located to Roaring Water bay, the salt air effects adds to the flavour of the duck giving it a salt marsh flavour.
Over the years, the customers and sales have grown and in 2015 the Hickeys took another major step in advancing the business towards the point it’s at today.
“In 2015, a 5,000 square feet processing facility was built and, thanks to this we can now progress and expand without any concern about running out of space,” Daniel outlined.
“Shortly after that, we signed the Aldi contract for geese and it would probably have moved us up to the largest goose producer in the country.”
Fast-forward half a decade later and Daniel sees 2019 as having been the best year sales-wise for Skeaghanore West Cork Farm.
Gene, Helena and Daniel work as a team to run the duck side of the business, while there are also 85 cows being milked on the farm.
It’s a far cry from when Daniel first joined his parents on the family farm on a full-time basis.
“I finished college in 2014 and came home and started working on the farm at the end of that year,” he said.
“In the last 18 months or so we’ve found a new gear and I’d say 2019 was our best sales wise.”
He added: “SuperValu is the reason we got up and running.”
So what has been the secret to success so far?
For Daniel, it’s all about the continued quality of product coming out of the farm and on to the shop shelves. Having staff and suppliers that you can trust is of big importance to the family.
“Aldi were looking for good products, Irish products and we supplied them,” he said.
“Our geese won three stars at the Great Taste Award in the UK and I can tell you that three stars is a rare thing at those awards.
“We were nominated for the overall winner and travelled to London and got to the final three products in Ireland. We received a lot of recognition.”
He added: “Dunnes Stores has been very good to us as well. All the retailers are obviously brilliant and they all look after us like we try and look after them.”
Skeaghanore Duck has received a number of Blas na hEireann Irish Food Awards over the past few years. These include: Smoked Duck Breast: Bronze Award (2017), Smoked Chicken: Gold Award (2016), Confit of Duck Leg: Gold Award (2015), Confit of Duck Leg: Silver Award (2014), Blas na hEireann Best Artisan: Smoked Breast of Duck (2013) and Blas na hEireann Best Chief: Smoked Breast of Duck (2013).
This past November saw Daniel Hickey nominated for the 2019 FBD Young Farmer of the Year Award.
While the prominent young Cork farmer would miss out on the accolade on the night, he wouldn’t leave the Castleknock Hotel empty handed.
“It was local man John O’Driscoll who told me I should enter for it,” Daniel outlined.
“Next thing you know my name is called out along with a lot of really progressive big farmers. From there, we got called up and I couldn’t believe it. The interviews were tough but a good experience at the same time.
“We ended up winning the Other Enterprises Category, which was great, and the phone didn’t stop buzzing after it.”
The award success helped mark an end to an excellent year for Skeaghanore West Cork Farm.
Now, looking towards the months ahead for family business, Daniel is keen for things to keep on moving forward out near Ballydehob having embarked on a fresh decade.
“We just hope to be progressive and push on in 2020. Our brand is really after growing here in the last year or so and the hope is to grow with it.
“I just finished my Masters in Business so hopefully I can put that to good use as well,” he concluded.
First published in Irish Tractor & Agri magazine Vol 8 No 1, February/March 2020