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Questions and Answers with Frank O’Brien

29 April 2020
Type Media Article

Frank from Ballybroder, Kilbeggan, Co. Westmeath - organic drystock and tillage farmer. A farm walk was due to take place today, Wednesday 29th April. Dan Clavin Organic Specialist got an update from Frank on what has been happening on the farm this year


Farm profile:  

  • 54 ha. Mainly free-draining land with challenging terrain.
  • 150 breeding ewes (Texel, Belclare and Suffolk Cross ewes, Charollais ram).
  • 8 suckler cows and buys in 8-10 weanlings. 17-18 cattle brought to finish/year.
  • New: Carried out re-seed with red clover-grass in 2018. Sowed 15 acres of organic oats in Autumn 2019. Variety: Huskey.
  • Stocking rate: 1.4 L.U./ha.
  • Farming organically for over 20 years.

Questions  and Answers  with Frank O’Brien

Q. How are you getting on at the moment?

I have just completed lambing and that went well with few problems. I have been getting sheep out to grass since mid-March and all my cattle are out since early April. I hope to start selling batches of lambs from early July and I will have cattle ready for slaughter in two lots this Summer and Winter.  I plan to cut my main silage fields in early June and the red clover silage ground will be cut 2 to 3 times from late May. I generally get 7 or 8 bales per acre from my silage, but the red clover will add more. The land here is free draining and it has been getting dry, so some more rain is definitely needed.

Q. How have your organic oats been doing?

I planted 15 acres of oats last October for Flahavan’s. I have been very pleased with it so far and there have been no weed problems as the crop has grown well ahead of them this Spring. I am hoping to get 2 ½ tonnes per acre.


Organic Winter Oat crop on day of sowing. 21 October 2019. Previously the field was in permanent pasture.


Organic Winter Oat crop. 6 December 2019.


Organic Winter Oat crop. 10 March 2020.


Organic Winter Oat crop. 28 April 2020.  Slurry (2,500 gallons/acre) applied by trailing-shoe 10 days earlier.

Q. Are there organic markets available for your cattle and sheep?

I supply almost all my lambs organically to Irish Country Meats in Wexford. I supply all my cattle organically to Good Herdsmen in Tipperary.  Generally I get a premium of 15% -20% above conventional prices.

Q. What are the main challenges you have encountered with the organic system?

I have a low input and cost system which suits the organic way. I follow the natural growth of the grass and adjust my lambing date accordingly. I spread slurry and farmyard manure which I get from the bedding of my cattle. Last year I started to import some slurry from a neighbouring conventional cattle farm for my red clover and oats.  I manage thistles by topping. I encounter very few veterinary problems. I get permission from my vet for any veterinary treatments I need and I double or triple the withdrawal period so as to keep within the organic rules.

Q. What advice would you give someone considering going into organics?

Do research on the markets. The market cannot be assumed for your produce. Things are a bit trickier. I am a long way from an organic mart and the oats have to go to Flahavan’s in Waterford for instance. Cattle and sheep have to be booked in to factories well in advance. These are challenges but they are not insurmountable.

More information on Frank O’Brien’s farm is available here  Further information on organic farming is available here