Bruce Thompson grew up on the home farm in Co Laois where they farmed a mixture of cattle, dairy, sheep and tillage.

When Bruce was considering his college options at the start of the millennium, a career in farming was an uncertain one, milk quotas were crippling the dairy industry and a future on the home farm looked like a bleak one.

So he decided to go to Cork Institute of Technology (CIT) to study mechanical engineering.

Bruce Thompson's farm is in Co Laois, he is the eighth generation of his family in farming.

“To be honest going into farming was discouraged at the time and maybe rightly so because I was quite young and there wasn’t going to be an income for the two of us out of the farm,” he says. “It just wasn’t viable to do that.

“My parents encouraged me to pursue a career elsewhere. They didn’t discourage me from farming either, they just encouraged me to do whatever I was interested in – proper parenting!”

A turn

Bruce completed his engineering course in Cork and took on what would now be the equivalent of the Green Cert.

All this coincided with tuberculous (TB) sweeping through the herd at home and it was after college Bruce decided to return to the farm to help out his father during that difficult time.

“At that time, there was TB on the farm. Dad was milking 54 cows here and he lost 48 of them to TB and he was just about to throw in the towel, and I said I’d come home and help out before I went on a career in engineering. And here I am today,” he says.

Bruce has been a constant at the farm ever since, but unfortunately so has TB.

“It’s nearly an innate thing at this stage,” he explains, “because when I took on the farm in 2012 as well, we had TB then, we had it in 2018 and we had it again this year in the spring, it’s a recurring problem.

“It’s very frustrating, it’s something that I’ve been living with for my career, and as a child, seeing animals being removed from the herd.”

Contract work

Bruce never returned to a career in engineering; when he went home to help his father he stayed home. As the farm was not enough for him and his father to draw two incomes from, they set up a contracting business to add another revenue stream giving him a living wage.

“From around the late noughties we did silage cutting, reseeding, hedge cutting and mulching which were the main stays at the time and we stuck at it until around 2015 or 2016,” says Bruce.

Bruce had managed to get some milk quota a couple of years previous as a new entrant which allowed them to increase the herd size and concentrate on the dairy.

“Land was becoming available through neighbours and that allowed us to push on and basically the contracting was getting in the way really at that stage because we had enough cows to justify more of an income off the dairy farm, so we were able to keep the farm income from inside the gates,” he says.

Bruce Thompson Ballyfin was on the IFA Tractorcade Protest in Portlaoise.

Big decisions

One thing Bruce did change immediately when he arrived home from college all those years ago was, he got rid of the sheep of the farm, a decision he has no regrets about.

“When I came in the road gate here, I pointed to the sheep and said to my dad, ‘It’s either me or them,’” he says. “That’s how soon the sheep went.”

The income from the sheep was very low for the amount of work they required on the farm; it also had a little to do with Bruce’s feeling that sheep spend their time coming up with new ways to harm themselves.

“We removed them off that farm and that was the end of that,” he says.

Not a wasted degree

Despite there being no great aspirations for a future on the farm as Bruce was heading off to college, that’s not the reality which presented itself once the decision was made when returning home from CIT. But that engineering qualification never really went to waste.

“We are going back to 2001 when I studied and we were doing Microsoft Excel spreadsheets and you know, it has changed very little since then. All that type of stuff, Word documents, drawing and engineering obviously, is very helpful as there’s a lot of infrastructure on the farm. It’s very helpful in that regard,” he explains.


Aside from breeding cattle, Bruce has taken to breeding a creature which is a lot smaller, the dung beetle.

Bruce Thompson is working on researching different grazing techniques which will help to naturally reduce the parasite loadings on pasture. \ Philip Doyle

He has a particular interest in different grazing techniques which will help to naturally reduce the parasite loadings on pasture, a project he has been working on as a Nuffield Scholar.

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