Willie Mulhall had a very colourful and varied career before returning home in 2009 to take over the family farm in Allenwood, Co Kildare, following his father’s illness. This included working as an underwriter in a national bank in Dublin before a radical pivot to become a qualified stonemason.

Willie’s subsequent return to the land didn’t hamper his impulsive, entrepreneurial spirit. As if going organic in 2015 wasn’t sufficiently radical a departure, Willie also decided to move from Simmental into Speckle Park cattle, following a chance encounter with a specialist breeder at a friend’s wedding.

First bred in Canada in the 1960s and introduced into Ireland in 2007, Speckle Parks combine the genes of Angus, Shorthorn and White Park breeds. Willie was an ‘early adopter’, figuring that the hardy, lighter breed would suit the farm’s wet, peaty ground and new organic system, while also providing a ‘distinctive’ advantage for potential direct sales.

Angus and SP sires

Willie crosses his 50-strong pedigree Speckle Park and commercial SPX herd back to Speckle Park bulls. He used Angus and SP sires across the original herd and retained heifers to form the herd he has today. They calve close to turnout, usually late March. The progeny are finished on farm at around 28 months, and are mostly sold via the Good Herdsman.

Willie finds that the cows, naturally polled and easy calving, are good mothers and hardy, often grazing – and, Willie suspects, self-medicating – on the willow and ivy in the hedgerows, reducing veterinary overheads. He employs a rotational grazing system to reduce parasite burden. Faecal egg tests are used to determine the need for medical intervention, which is rare.

Natural bounty

Willie’s father’s farming legacy also included several stands of forestry, including small sections of sycamore, extensive areas of mixed forest to be managed under a continuous cover system, and a 20-acre ash plantation which will be clear-felled and replanted with native mixed species this year.

Kildare farmers Kim McCall (l) and Willie Mulhall both participated in the Protecting Farmyard Pollinators EIP, a peer-led project through which farmers were supported and rewarded to help pollinators.

The land itself is surrounded by water with the River Slate; two canals, farm drains and wet meadows providing valuable space for recreation and wildlife. And what a bounty of wildlife there is; nesting kestrels and owls, breeding waders, kingfishers, yellowhammers, woodpeckers, trout in the river and red squirrels in the woodland.

Willie’s farming journey and interest in nature has been heavily influenced by his participation in the Protecting Farmland Pollinators EIP. This recently-concluded five-year project, led by the National Biodiversity Data Centre (NBDC), saw 40 farmers from Kildare, Wicklow and Laois coming together with scientists to figure out ways of improving conditions for pollinators on their dairy, beef, arable and mixed farms.


The magic of the project – as with many EIPs – was the level of ‘ownership’, collaboration and peer-learning involved. Farmers shared experiences, advice and ideas through which they could improve their ‘pollinator points’ and unlock resultant rewards (averaging €2,721 per farmer per annum). Over the course of the project, 80% of farmers increased their pollinator score (based on providing food, safety and shelter for pollinators) and the median score increased by an impressive 87%.

In Willie’s case, according to then project manager Dr Saorla Kavanagh, “by allowing his hedgerows to bloom and reducing hedgerow management on the farm, he more than doubled his whole farm pollinator score”. She added that “by the end, Willie became a champion voice for farmland biodiversity encouraging and inspiring others”.

Natural integration

Another EIP participant was Willie’s fellow Kildare farmer Kim McCall who, reflecting on the project’s success, noted that no participant withdrew from the project and many remain in contact. It was fascinating to accompany Willie and Kim on a recent walk across the Mulhall farm and eavesdrop on the completely natural conversational interweave between them when discussing the EIP and general farming and nature issues.

Willie at an old bridge, crossing one of the many on-farm waterways.

The topics covered ranged from the relative merits of cattle breeds (Aubracs for Kim) to the ‘dark art’ of seed-mixes for multispecies swards and combi-cropping; hedgerow management (now a three/fiveyear rotation); felling diseased giant ash trees safely; plant and wild bird identification and more. Wllie and Kim’s conversation – like the EIP itself – is a resounding reminder of the resource that farmers represent in naturally integrating biodiversity into farm planning and practice.

Enduring outcomes

For Willie, the EIP has been a great source of peer support and practical ideas and has made his farming life more interesting and enjoyable.

He has further improved his farmland biodiversity while sustaining stocking levels and growing income. Though the funding has, regrettably, ended, the awareness has only grown and Willie says “there is no turning back” from the biodiversity journey.

Future plans include ponds and agroforestry, adding to the farm’s natural bounty which he and his wife Jane would one day like to share with visitors through agritourism ventures, direct sales and ‘neighbourwood’ schemes, as they strive to improve viability by aligning with consumer trends. Already, they host an annual BBQ fundraiser and farm walks, leveraging their rich natural assets – from Speckle Parks to pollinators – to create a brighter outlook for their family and community.