ATTAINING the right balance is the ethos that Timoleague farmer Ger Keohane applies to life. Unusually though, he’s not like most of his farming neighbours that are predominantly dairy-based as Ger’s holding at Ballinroher, adjacent to the main R600 road from Timoleague to Clonakilty, is a suckler farm.
Perhaps it was predestined given that Ger is the only boy in a family of five that he would end up farming. ‘I was born on a farm and from an early age it was what I grew up with. After that I went to Agricultural College in Darrara (only a few miles away) came home and started farming.’
At the time the Keohane farm was, like all the others around, dairy-based: ‘Yes,
around here it’s intensive dairy farming, I was a dairy farmer until about eight years ago. I felt that I needed a change.’
That decision was based primarily on lifestyle, albeit with some other factors. ‘I wasn’t happy with the lifestyle I had, the farm needed an upgrade and the milking parlour needed modernisation.’
Ger explains how things evolved: ‘Yes, it was decision time. I gave it consideration. I spoke with a few people and, once I made up mind, it wasn’t a big decision. Dairy farming was (is) 24/7 and there is more to life than work all the time. I just needed a change and I was happy to follow that through.’
The role of farm advisory service while key wasn’t the overriding factor: ‘I had a talk with my Teagasc advisor with regards to financial implications. As for the suckler side, I knew what that entailed.’
Ger has a pragmatic view on organisations such as Teagasc. ‘Yes, I use them, they (Teagasc) are good up to a point, but at the end of the day, the individual has to make the decisions.
‘Again, its just advice. They are good to organise events to see what other people are doing and that broadens one’s horizon.’ Praising their adeptness at paperwork, he adds: ‘While I’m ok with the paperwork, there are things that would pass me by and Teagasc are more tuned in than me and they pick up on them.’
Whilst acknowledging the role of modern technology, he opines: ‘I still prefer pen and paper.’
Endorsing his opinion on the future of the family farm Ger says: ‘Oh, there is but one always has to be open to change. Other people have changed but it’s more for retirement rather than what I did.’ All animals – Limousin and Simmental crosses – on the Keohane farm are for the beef industry. The move away from dairy farming was key to securing job satisfaction: ‘Being your own boss’ is the principal bonus.
‘When I make a mistake or when things go wrong, the buck stops with me. On the downside, ‘the hours sometimes can be unsociable, especially with the calving season; it’s just the system that I have chosen.’
The award-winning farmer plays down his success at the recent Bandon Mart show and sale: ‘It rolled out for me on the day, I just like to have cattle of a certain standard and, if the trophies come, well and good; it’s just the way I do it. It’s not a goal to get them (trophies) or to be seen to be get them.’ It was also a twist of fate.
‘I had been taking store cattle to Bandon (factory) for years, but last year I wasn’t happy with prices so I kept them until the autumn and entered them (at Bandon Mart) the week before and that was more or less it.’
Although not interested in GAA, Ger’s life outside farming is a cocktail of interests. ‘Yes, you could see me on a bike, but I’m not a serious cyclist – more of a Sunday or a seasonal cyclist – I could do around eight or ten miles.
‘I would encourage anybody to join Macra and not just rural people. When I was involved with Clonakilty, the majority of the members were from other walks of life. You will find something there for everybody.’
His culinary skills provide another interest: ‘Yeah, I would be fairly good at the cooking, and I would have an interest in it as well.’
‘I’m a regular at the Clonakilty market just to see what’s there. I think they are a great idea and it is important that they are supported as much as possible.”
Broadminded, Ger suggests that farming can be for anybody, but it comes with a proviso: ‘For people coming from a farming background, it is good to go out and travel and get experience before they commit to the farming. To do something non-farming broadens the horizons and it’s easier to make decisions.’
Aside from Limousin and Simmental, Belgian Blue also finds favour with Ger, ‘All breeds have their strong and weak points, it’s just a case of getting the right balance between the breeds.’ I suppose that’s life isn’t it?