Operating within one of the island’s most picturesque and historic settings, G Ramage & Son have been providing a full range of exceptional agri contracting services for half a century and counting. We travelled to Antrim’s stunning north coast and interrupted Daniel Ramage’s busy schedule to get an insight into this outstanding, long-established family enterprise.
Located within a stone’s throw of the iconic Giant’s Causeway, G Ramage & Son is a one-stop shop for all agri contracting needs, providing unrivalled solutions to farmers working the rich and colourful land of north County Antrim. This is a truly glorious part of the island – a dairy hinterland, if ever there was one! – and it is wholly appropriate that the Ramages deliver professional, dependable services.
“It’s predominantly dairy up here, with a lot of 100- to 350-cow units in the area,” states Daniel Ramage, who fronts the business alongside his father, George. “It’s good grass-growing country with dry, light ground. There’s a good bit of tillage, here, too, which helps, and also some beef and sheep farming. So there’s a nice variety but a lot of it is grass and dairy.”
George Ramage has been contracting for more than 50 years. He started providing services to neighbouring farmers when he was in his late teens and Daniel got involved around 15 years ago and started to push things on… “My father provided me with the stepping stone and I have built upon that,” the latter notes. “I did engineering at the local tech after leaving school and my father was a one-man band with one tractor and a trailed forager when I came home and joined him full-time in 2006/07.
“He had many local customers around the doors but things were moving on and, if you wanted to keep work and get new work, you had to move forward. Farmers were getting bigger and jobs were getting bigger and we had to push it on.”
Today, G Ramage & Son run eight pristine Case tractors and an extensive fleet of machinery to deliver a full range of prompt, efficient and value-added contracting services, generating full-time employment for a crew of five alongside George and Daniel as well as seasonal workers during peak times.
The striking tractor fleet is made up of a Puma 240 CVX, Puma 230 CVX, Puma 175 CVX, two 165s, two 160s and an MM 155, with the first-mentioned having been purchased brand new in March and the majority of the rest ranging from 2021 to 2018 reg. “We keep them all relatively new and fresh,” says Daniel. “The oldest is the 155, which is one of the first I’d have bought and has sentimental value.
“Ideally, I’d like to keep her for that reason. We’re not working her as hard as we used to. There’s 15,000 hours on that tractor now and it’s doing light enough work. I have it on the umbilical system and a bit of raking.”
Excellent machinery is at the heart of the operation. To this end, Daniel also operates two Claas forage harvesters – a new 496 series Claas Jaguar 860 alongside a relatively-rare 493 series Jaguar 890 – as well as a Claas Lexion 450 combine harvester, JCB 418s loading shovel and a JCB 535-95, a pair of 13-tonne Hitachi diggers (130-6 and 130-3) and a mobile stone crusher on tracks.
For slurry, G Ramage & Son run two umbilical systems, with Agquip dribble bars and 1,600-metres of pipes on each system, as well as four tankers – a 5,500-gallon triaxle Red Rock, tandem axle NC 4,000-gallon and 3,500-gallon, and an NC 2,500-gallon with 9-metre dribble bar.
There’s never a dull moment along the north coast and there’s invariably enough work to keep G Ramage & Son’s men and machinery going all year around: “We start with the slurry on February 1st and a lot of hours go into that. We’re then ploughing, sowing (one-pass), reseeding land, making-ready land and spreading dung. We then move onto silage and summer is the busiest time around here, with a lot of grass and whole crop. After that, you are on to combining and reseeding, ploughing and sowing again.
“Digger work is a big thing. One of the diggers is going steady all year and the other one goes for most of the year. We bought the stone crusher this year and that keeps the first digger going, while the other one can work on a lot of different things. We have tree shears, a rock hammer, a flail head and a saw head for the digger to provide a full service.”
G Ramage & Son is very much a self-sufficient traditional family business, offering a personal touch. The Ramage family also run a beef farming enterprise, typically bringing through 150 beef cattle to finishing each year, and everybody helps out with the contracting outfit. George’s wife Edyth has contributed immeasurably to the success of the business down through the decades, while Daniel’s wife Chloe is also actively involved behind the scenes.
“A lot of unseen work goes on and the business wouldn’t function without that,” Daniel confirms. “My mother could be feeding up to 14 or 15 men a day during peak times, which is a massive undertaking. Chloe plays a big part with invoices, etc. and that frees my time up to do what I need to do. My father has his own tractor, the 230CVX, and he also looks after the cattle.”
Their unique coastal location, hemmed in by the North Atlantic Ocean, means George and Daniel and their team are limited in terms of the catchment area they can cover. However, even though they can only travel inland, their reputation is such that they pick up a large volume of work locally:
“As we’re based on the north coast, on the Causeway Road, half a mile from the Giant’s Causeway, we can only go in one direction and only have a semi-circle of land to cover,” Daniel confirms. “But we have a good 30-mile radius of work covering Antrim and into Derry, sometimes a little further – though not often. There was actually one day this year where we had one harvester cutting silage just outside Muff in Donegal and the other one was between Antrim and Belfast. So each one was two-and-a-half hours from home, in opposite directions, but a day like that would be very rare. We’d generally be fairly close to home.
“We lifted 6,000 acres of grass and 500 of whole crop this year and also spread all the slurry for that. We also ploughed and sowed 1,000 acres of combinable crop. We covered a lot of ground in 2022 and you have to be prepared to do that. We strive to provide a complete service. As well as contracting, we also make and erect sheds and lay concrete.”
Machinery maintenance is vitally important to ensure that services are never disrupted. “We try to do as much of that as we can ourselves but we use the expertise of our dealers as well,” says Daniel. “When you are busy and have a job that needs done and it’s going to take a day and a half to fix something, that’s a lot of downtime for me to come off a machine, so you are as well to pay the dealer to do it. But we do as much servicing and fixing in-house as we can and we also make up some kit ourselves.”
Of course, good machinery is worthless without reliable, versatile men to operate it… “We’re very lucky to have a great team of honest, reliable fellas. Corey [Mitchell] has been here nine years and can do anything – mowing, combining, harvesting, pipework – while Philip [Williamson] is on the digger all the time, does groundworks and also drives the 4 rotor rake. Jason [Simpson] is another great lad, who does all the buckraking and can also go on the diggers. John Hanna and Jack McKay are also two very capable and dependable fellas who get through a lot of work.
“Having good customers is also a big help and I have to say we have some of the best,” Daniel continues. “Good customers is key to the whole thing.
“Of the 6,000 acres of grass we cut this year, up to 5,000 acres of that is within ten miles of home. They are all good people and I’ve been friends with them all for years. Some of them give us a lot of work – one is 1,300 acres per year – but we treat them all the same. The wee jobs are every bit as important as the bigger ones, because all of those smaller invoices add up. We know we wouldn’t be here without our loyal customers and that’s why we treat them all as a priority and give them the level of service they deserve.”
G Ramage & Son,
107 Causeway Road,
Tel: +44 7708 910123
First published in Irish Tractor & Agri magazine Vol 11 No 2, March/April 2023