Back in August Ali and myself took a trip up to Bellewstown, Co. Meath to visit Ali’s cousin Jo-Ann. A relatively recent move into the world of farming has seen herself, husband Brian and two beautiful children, Saoirse and Senan, move from the comfort of a large town, Newbridge, to the wilds of the Meath countryside, a decision they’ve never regretted. “The transition was grand. I grew up in the countryside and was delighted to be back.” After being brought up on the family small holding outside Newbridge, Jo-Ann was no stranger to the country life but to move so far away is bound to have it’s challenges. “The biggest issue for me was not knowing anyone up here. That was isolating.” In a break from tradition, it is Jo-Ann that is the full time farmer with Brian keeping his job to ensure a steady income.
Cairns farm is mainly a sheep farm with a small flock of chickens for a steady supply of eggs. They quickly saw a gap in the market however and last year reared 50 free-range bronze turkeys for the Christmas market. Setting up a farm from scratch, the choice of animals had to be made. “We chose sheep from a very practical viewpoint”, being easy to handle with a quick turnaround, they are the ideal animal to start farming but the main reason was even more practical “there is an abattoir near by.” Cairns lambs are a mix of Suffolk and Texel with Nova, the resident ram, bringing in the Texel genes. “The Suffolks have more fat on them but the Texel has more meat and a better shape with larger back legs; so it’s a great mix, the flavour of the Suffolk with the large muscle of the Texel,” I can attest to this, I bought a lamb from Jo-Ann last year and it was magnificent with beautiful flavour and texture. (rack of lamb recipe)
When I hear the word farmer, the image I get is (I’m ashamed to say) always a fairly old man with a cap. I was interested to see if Jo-Ann got much grief for being a female farmer. “It’s very tough at times, a lot don’t take me seriously but less for being a woman and more for being a startup.” It would be true to say that most farmers inherit or buy working farms and wouldn’t be acutely aware of the challenges involved in starting a farm from scratch, “but I’ve made some good contacts who have been a great support…..I wouldn’t be able to farm without my neighbours, to borrow a tractor, source stock, feed and bedding or even just advice on who to avoid!”
On our visit we were lucky enough to get a tour of the farm from Jo-Ann and Brian’s daughter Saoirse. I couldn’t help but be in awe as she walked around pointing out all of the different fruits and vegetables aswell as the next animals up for the chop. I was thrilled to see this. Too many adults, let alone children, are completely out of touch with their food and maybe if more knew where their meat came from, we wouldn’t be seeing so much farm animal abuse throughout the world. “We don’t hide the fact that we eat our own animals from the kids. They have been to the meat factory and know that animals go in and come out as meat. We try to instill a respect for the animals so that in the future they will be mindful of the source of their food and farm with compassion for the good of the animal and the environment.”
After a trip to the meat factory, where I was pleasantly surprised with the civility of everything, it was time to head home inspired by a five year old girl, the future is bright.