The Emerald Isle is an Agricultural Gem


Have you ever dreamed of kissing the Blarney Stone, watching an Irish sheepherder with his flock, learning about the beef cattle industry abroad, or taking in authentic accents at a historic Irish pub?  Then take in Haylie Shipp's exclusive series on the agricultural industry of Europe's third-largest island.  She brought an Irish flair to our Northern Ag Network TV and radio programs October 3 through October 12, 2012.  Below is the blog and video from her trip with the South Dakota Stock Growers Association.  







Day 10 – We're Home!!!

After 25 1/2 straight hours of travel, I was glad to be walking on U.S. soil first thing Saturday morning.  Thanks again to all that made this trip possible and, for those that were part of the amazing experience, it was great to meet each and every one of you!!    Stay tuned to our Northern Ag Network radio and TV programs in the days to come for more from our trip!


Day 9 – St. Partrick’s Cathedral, Trinity College, & Guinness Storehouse

Our last tour day in Ireland was an emphasis on the “tour” aspect.  Our day started out by heading to Trinity Collegeand St. Patrick’s Cathedral where we took in some beautiful sights and some great history.  The history of the Catholic Church is so entrenched in the history of Ireland that it's hard to think about one without the other!

After the self-guided tours there, it was on to theGuinness Storehouse.  While there, the members of our 12-member team walked through the high-tech tour and learned about each step in the malting process for the dark beer.  An interesting note to start off the tour was a look at the 9,000 year lease for the Guinness facilities!!  Throughout the tour, they did a great job on emphasizing how the Guinness ingredients – barley, hops, and water – were essential to the good product!

After the Guinness tour, we stopped at the oldest pub in all of Ireland for lunch.  The Brazen Head was established in 1198!!

Then it was on to a day of shopping and evening entertainment at Merry’s Ploughboy Pub where we were served yet another great meal and took in an evening of Irish singing and dancing.  Pardon the close proximity of the video.  We were in the first row! 

Now it’s off to pack for the airport to fly out in the morning for the states!!

Thank you to the South Dakota Stockgrowers Association, the Nelson Academy of Agricultural Sciences Online, and the Northern Ag Network for making this trip possible!!!


Day 8 – O’Reilly Grain Farm, Holland Beef Farm, & Irish National Stud Farm

Wednesday in Ireland began with our first tour of a grain farm where farmer Larry O’Reilly showed us the two tractors he used to do all of the field work on his 1,200 acres.  

While they were continuous wheat for years, they’ve moved away from plowing the soil and are now doing a rotation with oats, rapeseed, and wheat.  In general, crops are harvested in the first two weeks of August after being planted this time of year.  

When it comes to treating the planted crop, Mr. O’Reilly explained that they are back and forth over the field a ton!

After the grain farm, we made our way toward Dublin.  We stopped first at a beef farm near Durrow.  Farmer David Holland told us all about the 125 acres he raises 80 “pedigree” Angus cattle on.  Along with raising the heifers as breeding stock and keeping some to finish, he also is in the midst of a project where he is sending yearling heifers Kazakhstan. 

Mr. Holland had also just returned from Dublin.  On Tuesday, an estimated 20,000 Irish farmers held a demonstration in the city protesting against an apparent effort by the European Union to make farm payments the same for every farmer regardless of what they produce or how much.  From talking with the farmers that we visited while in Ireland, it seems that this is not a favored idea.

Then it was on to the Irish National Stud and Japanese Gardens where we saw a few of the famous studs.  One, known as “Invincible Spirit,” gets 10,000 euros as a stud fee.  The horse breeds between 120 and 140 mares in the breeding season, averaging between 3 and 4 per day.  He is insured for 60,000,000 euros.



Day 7 – Carrigaline Cheese, Nicholson Beef Farm, & the Rock of Cashel

Tuesday marked my first ever stay at a bed and breakfast!  Our group just retired at one of the local B&Bs in Kilkenny which also doubles as a working farm.  Their niche here is fattening out cattle.  Our evening turned into a great conversation with the hosts discussing everything from cattle genetics to a shortage of large animal veterinarians to government oversight.  It again just seals in the idea that agricultural problems are universal.

Before our evening stop at the B&B, our day started out with a tour ofCarrigaline Cheese.  The company is a “boutique” cheese producer that makes cheese for all of Ireland and even sends product to some U.S. companies.  Interestingly enough, the son who is now taking over the generation was actually working in California for the past 16 years.  He just moved back in 2011.

While the dairy we visited yesterday only produced milk 10 months out of the year, the cheese factory needs to have the raw product year-round.  As they told us during the tour, this means paying a premium to the producers that can give them milk all 12 months.  We also got to taste-test some of the cheese.  The three that we tried (all delicious!) were seaweed, cranberry, and smoked.

After the cheese factory it was on to a beef farm where we learned that cattle LOVE sugarbeets!!  While farmer Billy Nicholson used to grow a lot of the crop, he is now growing only a minimal amount for feed after the plant closed down a short while back.  In the picture below, three cows are fighting to find one chunk.

Mr. Nicholson took us on a hay ride to show us the 450 acre farm.  This is quite large in Irish standards.  He is actually very near the last port of call for the Titanic.

He also showed us the bulls that he feeds out and sells for beef.  They chose to go with bulls and not steers because of their rate of growth.  He also said Spain and Italy are great for the bull beef market.

After the ag stops were done, it was on to the Rock of Cashel.  This is one of the many castles in Ireland.  It was the seat of kings and medieval bishops for 900 years and flourished until the 17th century.

Now it’s off to bed!  After a four course meal tonight, we have to be up and ready for an 8 o’clock Irish breakfast before we hit the trail again.  On a side note, I think I may be trying to smuggle out a B&B cat and a blind dog.  Customs may be a bit tricky…


Day 6 – Blarney Castle, O’Leary Dairy Farm, & Old Midleton Distillery 

Monday turned out to be one of the colder days of our Ireland tour thus far with rain chilling our crew to the bone.  As I type, I’m bundled up under my covers with a scarf around my neck! 

However, the rain couldn’t stop all 12 members of our tour crew from climbing the 140 narrow, circular stairs up to the top of the Blarney castle!  While nobody flipped upside down in the mud to kiss the stone, we thought getting out alive with leather soles on slippery rock was quite the feat!! 

The main agricultural stop of the day was at Tim and Katherine O’Leary’s dairy farm.  On the farm, the family has 100 dairy cows, 35 in-calf heifers, 40 calves, and 4 bulls.  Extremely different from an American dairy is that these cows are actually kept outside to graze an average of 10 months out of the year.  Eighty percent of the cattle’s feed is grass.  A majority of the remaining 20{75f28365482020b1dc6796c337e8ca3e58b9dd590dc88a265b514ff5f3f56c30} is grass silage with corn/grain making up a small percentage. 


Ireland, as part of the European Union, will see major changes for their dairy industry in the near future.  Currently they are limited by the government on the amount of milk they can produce.  As of 2015, that limit will no longer be in place.


With a son nearing the end of college and ready to come back, Mr. O’Leary (in the Miami Dolphins t-shirt above) told me what that means for his dairy farm. 

After discussing the dairy industry for the better part of three hours, our group loaded the Kevin O’Sullivan-mobile and headed towards the Old Midleton Distillery.  While a number of brands of whiskey are produced at the distillery, all of the Jameson in the world is produced here.  It first opened in 1780.  Four members of our crew even got to take part in a taste test where they compared Jameson to a Scottish Whiskey and to Jack Daniels.



Day 5 – Sheep Dog Demonstration & Ring of Kerry Tour

The beginning of our Sunday brought our crew to the Kerry Bog Village where we tasted our first authentic “Irish coffees” of the trip.  The drink is a mixture of whiskey, brown sugar, coffee, and real cream.  

While there, we also got a chance to giggle just a little bit at the ponies they had on display.  The Kerry Bog Pony is a native breed to Ireland.  The breed was dangerously close to extinction in the late 1980’s.  However, the breed is now back in healthy numbers.  The ponies are used for transport and farm work, such as bringing home turf from the local bogs, seaweed from the beach, or milk from the creamery.

The most impressive stop of the day was at Brendan Ferris’ sheep dog demonstration.  Set up as a tourist attraction, Mr. Ferris shows the audience how he can manage his border collies, by whistle or voice, to work his sheep.  He also walked us through the different breeds of sheep on his farm and identified what each breed was used for.  Along with being awed by the skills of his animals, our crew was also extremely proud of the way he took questions from the non-ag members of the audience and answered them so effectively.  Worries about the dogs being too “thin” were squashed when he explained that they were fit from their work.  Concerns about the dogs frightening the sheep were also answered with an admirable level of wit!

We also learned that there are virtually no predators to worry about in Ireland.  According to Mr. Ferris, once you get a lamb past two weeks of age, they’re able to defend themselves from anything.  Before two weeks, the only threat is fox.  Right now in Ireland, a 100 to 110 pound lamb would bring around 90 euros.

Then it was off to drive the windy road in a bouncy bus as we went through the Ring of Kerry.  Somewhere along the road, near the town of Dingle, Wes Escott from outside of Faith, SD, stopped to pick berries.  This flatland girl was feeling a little claustrophobic as we wound our way through the narrow mountain highway.  However, the payoff of a gorgeous waterfall in the end made it well worth it!




 Day 4 – Galway City Farm Tour & Cattle Market 

You can cross an ocean, but when you close your eyes at a stockyards, it still smells and sounds like you could be sitting right in the seats of a sale barn in the U.S.  That was what our tour found on Saturday going to a local cattle market.  Upon opening those eyes, one could see a bit of difference in the way the men around the ring were placing bids.  Everyone was grouped tightly around the ring.  Men bid aggressively against each other, often shooting glares in another’s direction if they weren’t enjoying the competition.  Getting used to buying cattle in euros would also take a bit of practice!!  Another thing that we've noticed, especially at the sale barn, is that nobody drives pickups!  Stock trailers were pulled by cars or tractors!

Before we headed to the cattle market Saturday afternoon, we spent the morning visiting a farm near Killarney where, on 152 acres, the farmer raised 110 head of commercial sheep, 105 cows, and 5 horses.  This operation was quite advanced for the area.  He was focused on good genetics in his Limousine cattle and sells bulls for up the 5,000 euro ($7,000 USD). 

John, the farmer, discussed an idea that our group was well versed in.  He said that different government “schemes” aimed at conservation had a big impact in how he managed his farm.  He also talked about growing older and wanting to sell some of the livestock so that there wasn’t so much work to do.  Like many, he questioned what was going to happen with his operation with no overly interested children to pass it down to. 

He sealed the visit by sharing a bottle of Paddy's whisky with our crew.  He jokingly said that's how he starts every morning.  He added that this could be why he needs help to get the work done!

Saturday was the night to enjoy the nightlife of the Emerald Isle in the city ofKillarney.  We learned that drinking Smithwicks is a good way to point out that you’re an American and that bachelor parties are just as fun overseas as the are in the US!


Day 3 – Fernville Connemera Pony Stand & Kylemore Abbey

While Mr. Kevin O’Sullivan continues to tell us that Saturday is going to be the longest day of our tour of Ireland, Friday shaped up to be a test of endurance.  The first stop of the morning brought us to the Fernville Connemara Pony Stand in Galway, Ireland.  

At the Stand, we saw first hand the mares and studs that have helped to make the Connemera breed of ponies world-renowned.  Through the speech from owner Jimmy Canavan, we learned about more than just what makes a good horse.  At the spry age of 70, Mr. Canavan gave us insight into the industry, life lessons that cross over from the equine to human world (we can talk about those in private), and even a few tips for exercising your shoulders in the stables (quite entertaining!).

When it comes to the horses, Jimmy let us know that they’ve seen Connemara mares breed back when they’re up to 35 years of age and Connemara studs cover a mare up until age 42.


Following the Connemara tour, we made stops along the famous bogs of Ireland to learn firsthand about peet moss production from our fearless tour guide.  

Then, it was off to Kylemore Abbey.  The castle, which is thought to be the most romantic in Ireland, was built by Dr. Mitchell Henry for him and his wife, Margaret Henry, after they visited the area and stayed in a hunting lodge for their honeymoon.  She enjoyed herself and the land so thoroughly that Dr. Mitchell bought the estate and began building a multi-million dollar property for them in 1867.  Where are men like this hiding now?

In 1874, following a family trip to Egypt, Mrs. Henry became ill with dysentery and passed away in the days thereafter.  Because Dr. Henry could not stand the thought of her buried beneath the ground, he had her entombed in a glass coffin which he kept under the stairs.  During our tour we learned that he would bring her out for holidays and special occasions!

The property, now owned by the Benedictine community and home to the nuns of the Benedictine Order, has switched hands several times after Dr. Henry lost it in a poker game in 1903.  It boasts a 6-acre garden in which all the produce used on the estate is grown.

Then it was all play for the rest for the rest of the evening with stops at local shops and pubs.  One thing that we’ve learned is that the Irish LOVE cowboy hats!  We’ve had over a handful of offers from folks that want to buy our crew’s hats right of their heads!


Day 2 – Arrival & Clonmacnoise Tour

All-in-all, my first flight over the Atlantic went well!!  We landed in Dublin at 2:30 a.m. Mountain and, after getting some of the local currency from the airport ATM, loaded our tour bus.  Our colorful driver and fearless tour guide, Kevin O’Sullivan, proved that this trip is going to be far from boring as he began singing to us over the speaker system moments after our departure.

While much of day 2 has been devoted to powering through our jet lag (with Kevin telling us we must FIGHT to stay awake), we did have a great tour this morning of the Clonmacnoise monastery and cemetary.  

Clonmacnoise was founded in the 6th century and, after several attacks on the structures throughout the centuries, still boasts impressive partial stone churches and gorgeous crosses.  Proving further that agriculture is in the roots of every country, cattle were grazing in the background.  One church has a stone floor that was put in after people continually came in to take dirt from its original floor.  They weren’t just in need of some softer soil.  It was believed that the dirt within the church’s four walls contained animal-healing powers.  When the continuous removal began to compromise the integrity of the building, a floor was constructed to help keep the walls upright.

Now it’s off to a 6 o’clock (11 a.m. Mountain) dinner and to hit the hay before we embark on Friday’s journey!


DAY 1 – Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Today is “Leaving on a Jet Plane” Day!  I fly out of Billings shortly after 1, connect with fellow tour mates in Denver, fly to Washington, D.C., and eventually leave for Dublin, Ireland.  We'll be getting into Dublin around 10 a.m. on Thursday morning.  With the time change, this will be 3 a.m. Mountain.

Today I'm thankful for my ability to sleep on planes and my 5' 3″ frame which makes airlines not all that uncomfortable.  Wish me luck on my first international flight!!


© Northern Ag Network 2012

Haylie Shipp


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