Deirdre Sheehan meets Walter Young whose family has farmed in Ballydehob since 1888
WALTER Young’s family have been farming in Greenmount, near Ballydehob since around 1888. His great grandfather bought the land, which at the time included Greenmount House, and four generations have lived in as many dwellings over the years.
Walter, with his wife Deirdre, a massage therapist and office administrator, built their own house with sweeping views of the surrounding countryside, Ballydehob village and the estuary which reaches out into Roaring Water Bay where their live with their son Dylan, 13. Walter’s father, Robert, 91, who has been a big influence on him continues to have a huge interest in the farm and was active on the farm until recent times.
The traditional has evolved into the thoroughly modern, thriving dairy farm that is operating today but nods to the past are all around. ‘Inside one of the calving pens, in what used to be called the dairyman’s house, there’s a fireplace and there is a manger built in and you can see where the armchair would be.’
Walter’s home farm has 123 acres, they have a second farm a few miles away with a 40-acre block and they lease a further 40 acres adjacent to their own. The land comprises about 140 arable and 50 mixed ground acres.
This spring, they will have 115 cows calving in a ten-week period. They also have followers and about 20 bulls for calf to 12 month old beef.
Walter started farming in 1986 when he finished school, having been a boarder at Bandon Grammar. ‘I was the youngest of four brothers and I was hoping that none of the others would come home to farm and it would be there for me.’
Initially he ran a contracting business while his dad was still working. ‘The first love was the farm and I gradually wound down the contacting business as Dad was getting older and I never regretted it.’
Although glad overall that quotas have gone, he is aware that is unknown territory: ‘If you are someone who wants to increase production and had the land block to do so, the quota was restrictive, though with quotas gone there will be more fluctuating with prices with lows as well as highs. The smaller-scale producer is going to come under pressure either way but probably more so now.’
Having slowly built up from 29 cows milking in 1986 to 115 today, Walter feels further expansion would require a big jump in production, while there is also the issue of no available land within reach of the milking parlour. ‘We are lucky to be at the stage where we are happy with the level we are at, pretty well we are running the place ourselves with part-time labour. Kevin Kennedy, my work colleague, does a few days a week and relief work.’
Walter has no regrets about going into farming. He enjoys being his own boss, the satisfaction of seeing the calves going out in the fields for the first time, seeing reclaimed land being used though also knows the frustrations of the uncertainties of farming and calendar farming can be difficult.
He feels those starting out now face a lot of challenges and need to take a lot of care, though is optimistic that farming can be a viable option into the future: ‘We would love to see Dylan take over the farm and continue it through another generation.
‘Work-life balance is important to the family and to that end they finished winter milking about nine years ago. They use the downtime for maintenance and planning and like to get some travel and relaxation in before the new season begins, particularly skiing.’
Rugby is also big in the family with Walter a former player and now youth coach to Dylan’s team at Skibbereen Rugby Club. I think the future of both rugby and farming in Greenmount is very bright.