What is role within the Mayo Blackface group?
I’m the co-ordinator of the Mayo Blackface group. I am the 4th generation to farm these hills – my great grandfather, grandfather, father and myself have been here where we are standing now for the last couple of hundred years.
What are the origins of the Mayo Blackface group?
It started back in 2004. A group of farmers got together and decided to hold a breeding sale in Aurivo mart in Ballinrobe and it took off from there. We had a very successful sale. Since then, it has grown from strength to strength. We started off with maybe 50 members and today we have 400 members.
In terms of farming, are you passionate about producing a premium product?
I like producing good stock. That is my ambition – to have good stock going forward. The lambs reared are on the hills here out in the wild open, and we think the taste alone is a real selling point for that. For example, the Clew Bay Islands, there is no fertilizer or anything on those. There are herbs, special grass and heather growing out there. And out on the island you have the sea spray. I think the sea spray coming off the sea gives the lamb that unique taste.
How important is the support of Bord Bia in marketing your products in a national and international setting?
Bord Bia is a great help to us. It’s very important that Bord Bia keeps getting the extra markets we need for the hill sheep sector. I think that it is very important that Bord Bia keeps it on board. The more markets that we have, the better the price. What we are looking for is a premium price for our premium product.
How important is hill sheep farming as a source of employment here in Mayo?
It’s very important because of all the income that comes in from the sheep sector. If you take all the surrounding towns Westport, Louisburg, Achill, Ballycroy right down into Belmullet, every week you have the CAP payments for hill farming. Take all the meal stores and the milling companies. Employment around the area, chemists, shops, vets, the whole lot. The amount of employment it brings here is unbelievable. It’s an important way of life around these parts.
How do the Mayo Blackface group ensure that your produce is produced in an environmentally sustainable way?
It is very important for the environment that the hill farming is kept in the traditional way it is carried out along these hills. In terms of being environmentally sustainable, you can look around here and see the different ways that we farm. It is challenging, but we have to have a good environmental scheme going forward to keep our tradition going.