IN life, not everything goes according to the script and Ardfield farmer, part-time actor and scribe Tommy Moyles knows is aware of that fact. His life canvas is a wonderful and ever-changing tapestry.
Last Saturday, as he prepared to head off to the conclusion of the All-Ireland Open Drama finals in Athlone, he remarked: ‘There are days when things go wrong; when you are working with 200 animals anything can go wrong. For instance, last night, all seemed to be going well until a calf went down with meningitis and had to be injected every four to six hours for two nights over a weekend and there goes your plan.’ However, he was keen to stress: ‘Other days, you get West Cork scenery and that is your office.’
From a young age, Tommy always wanted to farm even though he wasn’t pushed by his parents (Tom and Kitty). According to Tommy, ‘they allowed us do what we wanted and enjoy it and this is my pathway.’
There was of course a moment of indecision. ‘I was a little unsure after Leaving Cert – the Celtic Tiger was coming to an end and farming was being put down by peers and advisors, but, it was still something that I wanted to do as I wasn’t enjoying other things.’
His analysis is pragmatic: ‘If you are doing a job that you enjoy, it takes the work out of it.’
The suckler to beef farm in Ardfield down on the coast at Dunowen consists of 46 hectares.
It’s a fragmented operation as there are two plots in Ardfield. ‘One dries out fast in summer the other is pretty good all year around and then we have land rented in Ballinascarthy – that is a bit more challenging, it is located beside my dad’s and brother’s pig unit.
Tommy is the eldest of three children, his brother, James (a qualified electrician), works with their father and his sister, Ann Marie, is a veterinary nurse in Perth.
In the Ardfield farm there are 66 Simmental cows – a pure bred herd with about a quarter pedigree.
Dairy farming was an option that was explored, but proved unviable. ‘If all the land was in one block then it would be a dairy farm. But its not, it’s spread over eleven miles – on paper it would look good, but the workload would be insane.’
Farm advisory services such as Teagasc find favour with Tommy, but he has concerns: ‘I would like to see more advisors made available if it could be done. The powers-that-be in Teagasc need to look at that as you can lose your connection with farmers on the ground very fast.
‘Some of the best advice I have got from Karen Dukelow was from questioning why we are doing something rather than telling you to do something. Thanks to Karen, for instance, matching fertiliser application to stocking rate and growth demand – our artificial fertilisers has dropped from 26 tons in 2012 to 14 tons in 2015. Between that and looking at soil fertility in clover, that’s a big saving.’
Like many others, paperwork has to be done although online services has eliminated a significant portion. ‘Doing that extra paperwork and traceability is what is going to give us the difference in the worldwide market in beef terms and that’s where we sell.’
As for the future, especially in dairy farming, he says: ‘The key to survival of the family farm is being financially aware – you can’t sit back anymore and expect money to come in the door and you must make use of technology.’
However, for pig farming, it is not as simple: ‘It is very much under threat – frighteningly so, there are around twenty pig farmers in West Cork and two of the younger sow owners have got out of sows – it will be dominated by “pig barons” from outside the area.’
Farming in Dunowen has its advantages, it’s about location, location, location, ‘It’s being your own boss in West Cork. One of the yards is up at the top of the village, the top of the Mountain. On a good day you have a view west to Sherkin, Mount Gabriel, Toe Head, Hungry Hill – how much is that worth.”
But farming also brings its dangers. ‘I had a cow attack about eleven years ago and it puts things in perspective. I don’t take them for granted anymore; they could turn on you anytime. We have culled hard and the fact that we don’t buy in cattle means that we can knock out our troublesome genetics.’ Ever the person to try something before ‘knocking it.’ Tommy Moyles has a varied life outside actual farming through his journalistic engagements with the Farmers Journal, he has chaired committees in Irish Grasslands Association that involved conferences, Clonakilty Show and, of course, Kilmeen Drama Group.
‘It’s absolutely insane, television is a thing of the past, you grab sleep whenever you can get it. You have to be organised having such a crazy schedule. It is important to get involved in something out side the farm gate.’
Ironically, Tommy admits that, up to a few years ago, he wouldn’t have gone on stage ‘for love or money.’
‘I like things done right, it makes up for me being a frustrated sports player – I was never the player that I wanted to be. It is nice to find something that I’m comfortable doing.’ Now, who was it that said that all the world’s a stage?