“Farming in Ireland is not just a way to make a living. It is a way of life, a passion, a yearning for the land”
VagaGuide Kim likes to keep busy. That’s why she leads Vagabond and Driftwood Tours in the summer and runs a farm with her husband Ger in the winter.
We caught up with Kim down on the farm to learn a little bit more about what farming in Ireland is really like.
Kim’s Farming Story
I was lucky enough to grow up in the countryside.
Even though our family weren’t farmers, I always had an appreciation for the work that they did.
My home place was surrounded by crop farmers and my uncle was a dairy farmer.
My summers were spent at my uncle's farm in West Cork. I always loved it there.
I herded cows at milking time. I collected fresh eggs. I ran through the fields and in and out of the milking parlour, having straw fights with my cousins.
The journeys to buy hens with my uncle were memorable. Bumpy Irish roads, loose hens and flying children in the back of an old Ford. It was no joke, I can tell you!
Farming In Ireland Today
Nowadays, I live on a dairy farm with my husband in the same beautiful West Cork region where my uncle farmed.
We have roughly 90 acres and are milking 71 cows; this is an average-sized farm for the area.
I can’t have straw fights anymore like in the olden days, but I can still bring the cows in for milking time. In fact, I help my husband out whenever and wherever I can.
Farming in Ireland is a tough but hugely rewarding way of life. The level of commitment and dedication it takes to be a dairy farmer still amazes me. It is often said that farmers will call a vet for a sick animal long before they call a doctor for themselves. This, I can tell you, is 100% true.
A Day in the Life of an Irish Farmer
A day in the life of an Irish farmer is very similar to that of a VagaGuide…
Jump out of bed at 6 am and run outside into the open air; check the weather and check the vehicles; then make sure everything is looking good and get ready for the day ahead.
We have a herd of British Holstein Friesian cows — the famous black and white ones! These are the most common type of cow you will see in Ireland.
Each dairy cow needs to be milked twice daily, every day, 365 days a year. That includes Christmas Day!
Once they are milked in the morning, the rest of the day’s work begins. This work is dependent on the season but generally, it means fixing/maintaining tractors and machinery.
We make sure the land is in optimum condition and also, most importantly, making sure the animals are well fed and cared for.
Animals bring a certain magic wherever they are. Cows are beautiful, docile creatures. Each has a different personality. Believe it or not, my husband knows each and every one of his cattle by name!
My husband and I love every element farming bring to our day-to-day life; no two days are the same. We count ourselves so lucky to live it.
Farming in Ireland During Summer
On our farm, the season dictates what work needs to be done.
Early summer is silage season. By May or June, our grass has reached a certain length and richness. It is cut, left on the ground for 12-24 hours in warmer weather, then baled or stored in a pit.
Covered through the summer months, this grass ferments into what we call ‘silage’. This process acidifies the silage which preserves it. Silage can then be fed to cattle, sheep and other cud-chewing animals. When wintertime rolls around on our farm, we’ll have lots of happy, perhaps slightly drunk, cows feeding on yummy fermented grass.
If you’re taking a small-group tour of Ireland in the months of May and June, you’ll notice tractors and trailers filling country roads. They are ferrying loads of silage back and forth.
After the silage season, there is a lull in activity. July is all about fertilising the land, getting ready for the second cut of silage which usually happens in August.
Find out more about Summer in Ireland
Farming in Ireland in Winter and Spring
Come January and February, the cows are brought inside to keep them safe and warm. Many are getting ready to go to the maternity ward!
This is my favourite time on the farm. There are lots of new baby calves around. This gives our farm a great atmosphere with a hint of springtime to come. Of course, calving also means 2 am wake-up calls every night. We like to make sure no animal is in difficulty.
Once calving is finished, our herd is put back out to grass in March. This is always a big day on the farm. The cows get extremely excited. It takes them a day or two to calm down and readjust to being outside.
And before you know it, we’re back around in May, playing “Dodge the Tractor on the Road!”
Farming in Ireland: The Facts
🚜 Farming in Ireland is dominated by smallholdings. The average size of a farm in Ireland is just 81 acres. To compare, the average American farm is 443 acres and Australia's average is 1,990 acres!
🐄 There are 7 million cattle, 3.9 million sheep and 1.6 million little piggies in Ireland
🥩 Ireland produces 617,000 tons of beef annually. We export 87% of it, earning €1.85 billion in the process.
🐮 Ireland exports 189,000 live beef cattle each year. This trade is worth approximately €100 million.
🧈 Our little dairy farm is small part of Ireland’s global dairy sector. Milk products are one of Ireland’s biggest exports, with 85% being exported.
👩🌾 Ireland’s army of 18,000 dairy farmers milk almost 1.35 million cows on a daily basis.
🥛 Ireland produces just over 8 million litres of milk per year and approximately 225,000 tonnes of butter. I’m pretty sure I account for most of the butter!
Types of Cattle in Ireland
Although they are extremely common, the black-and-white Holstein Friesians that make up our herd in Cork is not a native breed.
Two native breeds that you may run into on a Vagabond or Driftwood tour are the Kerry or the Dexter.
Dexters are the smallest of all European cattle breeds. They are extremely versatile. Dexters produce delicious, lean beef but can also give rich milk. Traditionally, Dexters were used to pull ploughs and carts in Ireland.
The Kerry is a dairy cow. It is considered one of the oldest cattle breeds in Europe. If you have been to Ireland, you may have come closer to the Kerry cow than you realise. Its milk is used to make the delicious Murphy’s Ice Cream from Dingle.
Other cow breeds native to Ireland include the Irish Moiled Cow, the Droimeann, and the White Park.
Find out more about some of the animals you will see while touring Ireland
Sheep Farming in Ireland
If you have been to Ireland, you will have noticed lots of sheep on your travels. It sometimes seems that there are more sheep in Ireland than people!
Sheep farming happens all over Ireland but predominates along the west coast. Sheep are sturdy animals that can safely navigate this rougher terrain. The rockier ground in the west of Ireland is trickier for cattle.
Why Are Sheep in Ireland Different Colours?
You may have noticed that most sheep look the same! The colours on their fleeces indicate who they belong to. Once they go wandering — which they do on a regular basis — the poor farmer whose job it is to find them will know which animal is theirs.
Sheep farmers across Ireland usually own a sheepdog or two. Sheepdogs guide the sheep whichever way the farmer wants them to go. A demonstration of sheepdogs doing their work is a sight to behold. They are truly amazing.
Many Vagabond and Driftwood Tours include the option to experience a real Irish working sheep farm.
Discover the amazing local experiences you can have on a Vagabond or Driftwood small-group tour of Ireland.
Other Types of Farming in Ireland
As everyone knows, Ireland is famous for the colour green. This is no accident! When you visit, you will see how lucky we are to have such green, lush fields.
This fertility means Ireland is ideal not just for rearing animals but also for farming crops, vegetables and fruits.
We love our spuds — what we call potatoes — in Ireland. Our climate is perfect for growing potatoes as well as other root vegetables. You’ll notice that we eat potatoes with almost every meal!
Our most common cereal crop is spring barley. Aside from animal feed and seed, barley is grown for malting our world-famous whiskeys and stout beers. Ireland also produces winter barley, oats and wheat.
Experience Farming in Ireland For Yourself!
Take our 6 Day Vagabond Epic Ireland Food Tour and you’ll get the opportunity to visit Ireland's only water buffalo farm. Macroom Buffalo Farm is located in the wilds of West Cork.
Buffalo farmer Johnny and his wife Geraldine purchased 31 buffaloes from Italy in 2009. He now has a herd over 200-strong. These water buffalo have found no shortage of water in Cork, whether falling from the sky or flowing past in the River Lee. They are thriving.
Johnny produces a variety of cheeses with their milk, including mozzarella, greek-style salad cheese, and halloumi.
👋 That's It From Me!
Well, thanks for joining me down on the farm.
I've enjoyed showing you around farming in Ireland and telling you about my agricultural background.
Join me on a Vagabond or Driftwood Small-Group Tour of Ireland so you can see for yourself!