Wednesday, March 23, 2011

News from Scotland

We've been beavering away behind the scenes on various fronts over the past few months. More on all of these fronts soon.

In the meantime, here are two very brief updates.

Maggie Gordon of Barfil has certified organic Galloways for sale in Scotland: just 1hr 30mins from the boat. Contact the Galloway Cattle Society in Scotland for more.

And on that, we've had a feature in their occasional journal which was published recently. Again, more soon.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Weather proof farming: Galloways are go!

Weather proof, recession proof, climate change proof cattle.
Really, the galloway got it all!

Here are two pics of Joe Condon's cattle taken today and yesterday (R). You can see a deterioration in the weather, but no let up in the cattle's foraging. They love this weather! When goats are coming down the hills in Wicklow, these Galloway cattle go higher.

They develop a double coat of hair in the winter, and have an extra thick skin. This means they don't develop a layer of fat over the winter - Lean, mean eatin' machines!

No expensive, climate busting, potentially GM and ultra-globalised compound feeds are needed for these cattle - they just keep eating the grasses that they themselves help bring on.

As a brucie bonus, this also means that the meat produced is grass fed meat, even over the winter and even for finishing. Who else can claim this?

This is meat that could be produced, literally, if the island was blockaded. This is meat that can be produced when and where nothing else can, and for a fraction of the costs and risks. Other farmers with other breeds will suffer, and will expect some sort of state support if this weather continues. These cattle don't need this.

All of this is also good for the bottom line - compound feeds are expensive, and the consumer pays in the end.

And its not just that there are negatives associated with compound feeds - in this weather it is hard to move them around. Simply put - farmers may find them hard to source and get a supply of.

Joe on the other hand, has no feed or fertilizer bills, and his machinery is a quad bike. The Galloways have access to sheds, but they don't bother to go in as they don't like going indoors.

So costs, with this farming system, simply disappear.

This is farming from the Celtic and Norman times, but it is also farming for the future.

Friday, October 29, 2010


Here is part two of Dr.John Feehan's visit to the Omega Beef Direct holding, the model farm for this Organics with Altitude initiative.

Part one can be found here

I walked the Omega Beef Direct farm of Joe Condon in the hills above Ardfinan on the slopes of the Knockmealdown mountains the day after Tipperary won the All-Ireland hurling final in September. It was the wettest day we had had for weeks but nobody cared in the slightest. The ground had no time to soak up all that rain, and rivulets meandered across the boggy slopes to swell the torrents tumbling over the Old Red Sandstone rocks that form the core of the hills. Joe’s Galloways grazed under the pouring rain with total unconcern, inured through their thick coats to such minor vagaries of the weather. They are made for these hills, selected over centuries for this environment, comfortable up here in all but the harshest of weathers. A careful eye is kept on condition, especially in the winter, and extra feed is given where they are not up to standard.

At key stages they are fed in grass paddocks on lower ground. The farm is organic, so no fertiliser is used on these paddocks, with the result that they have a wide diversity of grass and herb species: bents, sweet vernal-grass, crested dog’s-tail, Yorkshire fog, with an abundance of yarrow, self-heal, tormentil, cat’s-ear, lesser stitchwort, mouse-ear and lots of others.

For the rest of the time the animals are on the mountain (which is freehold commonage, where sheep also graze) – a mosaic of wet and dry heath, heathy grassland and bog with lots of sphagnum – on which they wander extensively, feeding on the wide variety of grasses, herbs and shrubs here, the mixture being the key to their general good health. Any scarcity of feed is compensated for by the area over which they forage (at an unhurried, energy-conserving pace).

The vet is a rare visitor to the hills above Ardfinan. How different this is from conventional beef farming, where intensive grassland management results in a sward that consists largely if not entirely of rye-grass and white clover, which provide the animal with the most monotonous of diets: and where animals are selected with a more single-minded eye to price and consumer fashion. The varied diet on the hills, on the other hand, is exactly what nature intends for these animals: which accounts for their robust health – and evident contentment. Their short life has been stress-free, lived under the natural conditions in which they are most at home.

One of the unforeseen costs of modern farming has been the affect of the clover-ryegrass diet on animal health and welfare. The superior quality of the ryegrass sward on the best soils had been recognized since the 18th century – with reservations – but the animals’ diet was never restricted to it. The mixed sward of traditional farming provided grazing animals with a nutritionally varied and balanced diet conducive to better health and greater contentment.

Today we are concerned in an unprecedented way about animal welfare, and methods of animal husbandry conducive to better welfare are more likely to win favour with the buying public and can be exploited by the farmer to help offset any immediate decrease in income that results from losses of ‘productivity’ resulting from the adoption of more extensive methods. Reduced veterinary bills, and the greater satisfaction that accompanies work of developing the new skills required are all factors that further restore the balance.

The problems associated with the breeding of animals purely for yield as estimated by weight and monetary outcome are being recognised increasingly. The new paradigm for sustainable agriculture currently being modeled by Liam Downey and Gordon Purvis at UCD has as one of its two poles rumen function: in effect, a farm on which the animals are healthy and happy as well as productive: and the other pole is a pasture management that provides this while at the same time maintaining biodiversity, landscape quality and the physical and chemical integrity of air, soil and water.

Putting the animal’s welfare first does come at a price, because these cattle will not deliver the ‘prime’ cuts our modern extravagant taste in meat leads us to demand. But once you have tasted a hamburger made with this Omega Beef you may come to redefine your taste in beef!

The claim that animals reared under more natural conditions – with more space and freedom and a more varied natural diet – taste better is widely accepted, but is generally based on personal experience and often anecdotal. Scientific research is now beginning to add quantitative teeth to the claim. Recent work in England and Wales has shown that beef, lamb and milk from species-diverse pasture have improved flavour, colour and shelf life, and higher levels of beneficial fatty acids. This work begins to provide a scientific basis for the concept of ‘terroir’, which links locally-produced foods to particular geographical locations.

The way of farming practiced by Omega Beef and similar enterprises has enormous value in conservation terms. It keeps bracken from establishing and prevents dominance of scrub, furze and heather, maintaining a more open mosaic of microhabitat conducive to greater biodiversity. Indeed, it may prove the ideal way to counter the dominance of bracken on mountain land everywhere. This is conservation grazing – the way the uplands should be managed – at its best. It was by and large the way they were managed in the more extensive economy of the 19th-early 20th century: the fossil field pattern and the evidence of drainage and field enclosure on the hills above Ardfinan are relics of the enormous effort in manpower involved. Those who farm the hills today – rather than leave them to their own less biodiverse ecological devices – are benefiting from the vast legacy of their labour.

This is a model of sustainable farming that combines optimal use of marginal land, conservation of biodiversity, and animal welfare, with top quality meat. This is farming that consciously anchors itself in a tradition: with a sense of cultural continuity and environmental sustainability.


Flags and bunting festooned every town and village I drove through as I made my way up to Thurles in the evening to join the throngs gathering to welcome the victorious Tipperary team home. There should be flags somewhere to celebrate the model of sustainable farming that is Omega Beef Direct.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


Recently, Dr. John Feehan of UCD visited Joe Condon's farm, the Omega Beef Direct holding, which is the model farm for Organics with Altitude. Here, we'll post what he thought of the visit.

John Feehan is a renowned academic and author of the definitive book on rural Ireland and farming: Farming in Ireland: history, Heritage and Environment.

(A video of his presentation at the Feasta Food event in UCD 2005 is available here)

What he wrote about the visit will be posted as two distinct entries. The first posting outlines the background context of food production in modernity. The second posting will be about the Omega Beef Direct farm visit itself.

John Feehan:

Among the greatest challenges faced by humanity in our time is that of doubling food production in order to feed a population expected to reach 9 billion by 2050. Two-thirds of these people will be in dense conurbations to which they have moved because they can no longer find enough to support them in the countryside. These people will not have the land resources to feed themselves, and will depend increasingly not on food produced in the urban hinterland or indeed elsewhere in their own country, but on imported food.

The options available to meet the challenge do not include taking more land into cultivation, because there is no more land: the good land is already in production. Most of what is left is desert, mountain or city: and indeed, in 2006 the International Food Policy Research Institute reported that 40 per cent of what is farmed today is seriously degraded. We cannot afford to lose any more farmland: in 50 years time we will need every hectare of agricultural land we have.

Areas of the world that are critical to feeding today’s 7 billion will no longer be able to supply their current grain surpluses to meet the need of burgeoning nations that can no longer feed themselves, as rising temperatures put pressure on the world’s great cereal-growing areas and water tables continue to fall as a result of the overpumping of aquifers – in effect, the mining of fossil water that cannot be replaced.

This is a challenge that will take all of our ingenuity and skill, all the more so because it has to be met without further loss of biodiversity and without compromising environmental integrity.

Here in Ireland we are in a privileged position. We will have ample supplies of water into the foreseeable future, and the marginal land allowed to slip out of productive agriculture constitutes a productive land bank that can be reclaimed. We will see farmed once more land on the margins that was taken into production in earlier times and abandoned as the tide of intensification concentrated on the ‘best’ land. This includes the extensive acres on the hills taken from the wild as the population rose to its pre-Famine peak of eight million people to be fed from local resources: reclaimed at a cost in human labour we can hardly comprehend in our mechanized society.

This land cannot be made productive however by applying the oil-dependent intensive techniques of the last 60 years, which will have become obsolete half a century hence. In a future in which the high price of oil will have made the extensive use of fertilizer uneconomic, we will need to develop – or recover – an agriculture that is based on inherent fertility.

This will require an understanding not only of the principles of the applied science of agro-ecology, but of how those principles are to be applied in the unique circumstances of each place. In its newfound adherence to the principles of self-sufficiency this new agriculture will be a return to the older knowledge of the past, but the greater understanding and control which the advance of science and technology have given us will mean that it is enhanced by the best of appropriate technology.

Monday, October 18, 2010


Lots of Galloway availability on DoneDeal at the moment.

Have a look here for Galloways in Mayo, Donegal ,Tipperary and Offaly

Friday, October 8, 2010

Available Galloways and expeller

Ben Colchester (drumeen farm) has organic rapeseed expeller for sale. this is a high protein winter feed, and it's reasonably priced. His details are here

Margaret Hyde Kelly has15 galloways for sale, c.300 kg c.E500 each. She's on 01 4973426

Finally, Joachim Schafer has a certified organic Galloway bull for sale. 078-48271 E-mail:

Monday, September 20, 2010


Interesting feature on the new look Galloway Cattle Society website about conservation grazing and Galloways.

Have a look here and don't forget to have a look around their site too.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010


Here is the third Organics with Altitude Newsletter. this is a low-res version which should be easy to open on line and download.


Printed copies also available. In this, you can find out about:

Our meeting with Michelle Gildernew (DARD minister for Agriculture); lots about Dexters and how they too suit Organics with Altitude; how to get direct selling; how to retain ownership of your product form start to finish; and how Organics with Altitude is somehow connected to the Wire!

Plus, just in case you are unsure, we have a special feature on what, exactly, is Organics with Altitude anyway?

Thursday, July 8, 2010

First Day at Youghal Farmers' Market

Blackwater Garden Centre in Youghal, Cork, held its first farmers' market last Saturday. What a good idea: bringing garden centres and farmers' markets together.

How foodie is that?

In fact, there are a myriad of good reasons for bringing these two things together: shelter and general comfort for stallholders, a retail atmosphere, good parking, knowledgeable foodie customers out to spend, ability to 'market the market' at the garden centre 7 days a week, the list goes on really.

It went very well by all accounts, with two of our farmers - Jim Lucy and Martin O Leary - selling out of product well before the end.

The site is here , and here's a pic of the first stallholders:
(L to R: Jim Lucy (black Angus beef), Siobhan Cronin (baking and savoury products), Mary Kay Solomon ( American style baking, fresh eggs and salad leaves), Maria Anthony ( local honey and honey based creams), Bernie Morel ( home made breads), Ann Foley (fresh in-season vegetables), Martin O Leary (lamb), Michael Walsh (fresh fish from Irish waters), Joe Condon of Omega Beef Direct.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Martin O Leary's farm

Update: across on my other blog, there an account of the walk and talk myself & Martin had recently.....see here

Martin O Leary is about to start direct selling his own lamb. He's been working with us from the start, and has just started producing lamb burgers, mince and the various cuts. I've tasted them, and have to say they taste amazing!

Very lean meat - the mince tastes very smooth in the mouth - no fat residues left behind in the mouth, as I sometimes get with other mince.
The burgers are real standout burgers, with perfectly texture. The cuts are excellent too - the small amount of fat on them is really sweet, while the meat itself is very tender.

He'll start selling at the new Farmers' Market at Scott's Hotel, in Killarney, this coming Friday. I'd highly recommend his meat.

To whet your appetite, here's a pic from his farm in Gleninchiquin, Beara Peninsula. You can see the Macgillycuddy's Reeks off in the background.

And here's a collection of them on Flikr - well worth a look.