Martin Walsh talks to MIKE O’DONOVAN about farming and his life outside of it
OVERLOOKING the splendour of the waters along the causeway at the Cloheen Intake, it is easy to understand why Clonakilty farmer Mike O’Donovan is very content.
Amidst such tranquil surroundings one could also detect the buzz of activity from the avid sportsman, who lists motorcycling as one – just one – of his sporting exploits. Life in the fast lane you might say, but one that is always calculated with such fine precision.
Not that Mike had to weigh up his options, at least initially. ‘Why did I take up farming? Well, I was reared on a farm.’
The farm at Lackenagobidane consists of some 72 acres with around 230 cattle. ‘Then, we are renting 280 acres; it’s a mixed farm, mainly dairying, small bit of beef, tillage and contracting.’
Mike highlights the great support provided by his wife Jacinta and their children Aaron, James and Michael. The family history has strong local links, ‘My grandfather originated from Knocks in Lyre. They sold Lyre when they bought Dunmore – which is now Dunmore House.’
Mike outlined those beginnings: ‘When they bought it, it was just a normal farm house, my grandmother started evening teas and then Sunday teas because of the beach beside them in Dunmore. ‘They got a bar licence and it went from that to a hotel. When my father got married they moved to this farm.’
The abolition of the quota has meant a lot for him. ‘I was in three partnerships, we worked all the quotas here, the milking was done in one place rather than in four places.
‘Now that the quotas have gone I don’t have to have a partner I can milk all I want. The only thing about that is that I have to buy those shares in Carbery which is a cost.’
As a result of the partnership situation, most of the expansion at Lackenagobidane has already taken place: ‘Now I can expand as much as I want, whenever I want.’
He added: ‘I have become more efficient and I have cut down some of the contracting. I have two full-time contracting and three part-time contracting.
He places a high value on farming bodies: ‘It was Seamus O’Dowd that I was dealing with in Teagasc, an excellent man, he is retiring this year and will be missed; he’s a fantastic person, level-headed’.
‘One thing with Teagasc I suppose they really help the younger farmer get involved.’
Very much the outdoor type, his views on paperwork are frank: ‘I’m not a lover of paperwork, but I find that the more often I do it, the easier it is. If I stay on top of my paperwork it’s not a job, if I leave it go for a week, it is a job.’ He is also a fan of online systems.
One of the reasons that he espouses the view that there is a bright future for farming has much to do with his situation. ‘My kids help me, when I’m under pressure they are there for me, Jacinta is a stay-at-home mum, the back-up she gives me is unreal, she is always there no matter what I need to do, it takes a lot of pressure off me.’
Mike admits he has a good life. ‘I love my job and I don’t think you could do farming unless you were that way.’ The only negative is that the hours are very long.
Breaks – whether at the weekend or longer are all factored into life. “We would always try and go out one night a week. I’m involved in the West Cork Motorcycle Club, I take part in the Hillclimb (Twohig’s Hill – within earshot of his home) the odd 10km, I enjoy life outside farming.’
In fact, it could have all been so different, ‘I got into bikes when I was 16 or 17 I had a racing bike at 19, did the Irish Clubman Championship – and was second in 1991.’ That seemed to bring him to the attention of others. ‘Eric Galbraith, Team Honda Ireland manager was very good to me – I had to make the decision then – go at it full time, but I backed back. The only event I do now is the local Hillclimb.
Other sports like GAA, rugby, rowing, tug-of-war were all sampled along the way. ‘Farming is not just a hobby anymore, you have to be dedicated to it, it’s got very intensive.’ Yet, there will always be opportunities to chill out and enjoy the spectacular views – idyllic.
As for life in the fast lane? Best leave that to the 750cc Team Green Kawasaki – even if it’s only occasionally.