Martin Meehan is a suckler farmer based in Carran, Co Clare, in the heart of the Burren. There, he runs a herd of 50 cows and sells the weanlings on a farm of 156ac, all of which is owned.

Like many farmers in the area, his farm contains a proportion of winterage, which cattle farming in the area is synonymous with.

“I have about 35ac of winterage and the rest is green land. I’m in two blocks – a farm in Ballycashin, Kilnaboy and home ground at Carran. One has winterage of 20ac and there’s 15ac in the other. I’d lightly stock the winterage when I wean the cows.”

He keeps about 25 cows out until 1 January and they are housed after that. Those 25 cows won’t be calving until the end of March and into April.

“They don’t need the same feeding as the rest until nearer calving. The February calvers need a bit better feeding, so they’d be going into the shed first. They’re calved in the shed and I use a creep area until the first week of April. They’d hit the grass then bar a bad year when it could be later.”

Martin Meehan runs a 50-cow suckler herd at Carran, Co Clare.

Three-quarters of the herd are red Limousin cows, with the balance made up of Charolais and black Limousin, crossed to Charolais bulls. Calving starts around the first week of February and a little over 95% would be calved before 15 April, with only a handful of stragglers left. Martin holds on to these and sells them at 12 months – everything else is sold through Kilfenora mart before Christmas.

“I’d be going for the yellow Charolais calves. I run two bulls as it’s easier to do than AI; it takes less time. So far this year, I’ve averaged €3.11/kg for the heifers and €3.14/kg for the bulls. I’d be aiming to get bulls away around 370kg and from 270kg up for the heifers.”

Red Limousin cows make up 75% of Martin's cow herd. He has 35ac of winterage on his farm, which helps reduce the costs associated with keeping a cow over the winter.

He’s on top of his finances and makes his decisions accordingly. The main aim is not to dip into the single farm payment.

“I’m trying to keep it as low-cost as I can. I creep feed the weanlings for eight weeks but no longer. I start low and build up to ad-lib over a few weeks. I buy that through John O’Gorman Kilfenora. It’s the Super beef nut from Roche’s Feeds. I don’t believe in putting €100 of meal into a weanling. I just don’t think there’s money to be made out of it.”

Red Limousin cows crossed with Charolais bulls provide the golden coloured weanlings the Burren is renowned for.

His system has changed due to circumstances over the years and input costs are the current driver of change on his farm.

“I had 70 cows but I had 15 reactors in 2016, so after that I dropped the rented ground and came back to 60 cows. I dropped back to 50 cows this year and cut back on manure by a third, because I can’t justify paying €2,000 for a pallet of fertiliser. I can’t do a higher stocking rate as I don’t have the winterage to do it at a lower cost. Most of my cows are being fed in the shed from 1 November to 1 April. That’s a long winter, so they’d need more silage. They’d eat between 10 or 11 bales of silage per cow in that time. At a cost of €25 a bale that’s so much per cow and that’s just for silage. A lower stocking rate means less overheads. I have plenty of ground to carry those cows now with very little outgoing costs. It took away the need for second-cut silage, so I had more time as well.”

Martin's Limousin cross Charolais calves are all sold through Kilfenora mart from September to Christmas every year.

With input prices where they are, the obvious question is whether Kieran consider going organic.

“I looked into it, but I don’t think it would suit. The lie-back needed for it means the creep area is gone for the calves and the cost to build would be too much, especially now with concrete gone up in the budget.”

Family life

Martin combines farming with looking after his two children. Sadly, his wife Brigid passed away from pancreatic cancer in February 2011.

“Our daughter, Meabh, was six and our son Luke was 16 months at the time. I had driven an oil lorry for 14 years up to then, as well as farming. When Brigid passed away, I gave up the driving and went full-time farming to look after the two children.

“I was lucky I had great family support too, so I rejigged everything. Before that, we had the sucklers in Carran and kept the calves and sold them as 18-month-old stores. Once she passed, I went with all cows instead. That tightened up things.”

Martin Meehan and his son Luke at the recent heifer weanling show and sale at Kilfenora mart, Co Clare.

Restructuring how the farm operated gave Martin the time look after the children. Meabh is now a first year in the University of Limerick and like many students, she can’t get accommodation for college.

As a result, she travels to Limerick with a neighbour who is in a similar situation on the days lectures aren’t online. Martin does some of the weekly driving for them.

“It’s an hour and a half in the morning to get down with traffic. Hopefully she’ll get a place to stay there after Christmas or for next year. It’s ok at the moment but when the cows start calving it could be different. There’s a lot more people in the same boat.”

Luke has started in Lisdoonvarna secondary school. Away from school and the farm, he plays football with Clann Lir, an amalgamation between three GAA clubs in north Clare, Kilfenora, Liscannor and Michael Cusacks.


Martin purchases his replacements. He used to buy in weanling heifers, but found it was a long time before he’d get his money back, so he now purchases springers in Ennis mart instead.

The nature of the ground he farms means he can’t just pick up any heifer that catches his eye.

“Anyone farming on limestone ground has issues buying replacements. If I bought cold stone cows, we wouldn’t have them three weeks and they’d get redwater.

“Sometimes they could get it in 18 days, some six weeks and some might never get it. If they’re born in the area, they’d have the tick picked up as a calf and be immune.

“It’s hard to get limestone cows. You could have five or six farmers bidding on one. You don’t know the competition there is between limestone farmers for those cows. We look at the cows first but the address they come from is nearly as important.”

Farm facts

  • Name and location: Martin Meehan, Croughville, Carran, Co Clare.

    Farm: 156ac owned.

    System: Suckler to store.

    Cow numbers/type: 50, mainly red Limousin cows with some Charolais and black Limousin.

    Bull use: Two Charolais stock bulls.