It’s probably best to start with the final question put to Damien Davoren when I caught up with him on his farm last week. Do you enjoy farming?
“I love it.” Chatting to Damien, you could get a sense of pride in the farming operation he runs with his father in the Burren in north Co Clare. That’s a broad geographic description but that sums up the level of fragmentation he’s dealing with.
“The farm is based around north Clare. Our land is very scattered. There’s six or seven farms but they’re mainly small blocks. We’d be farming over 300 acres between owned and rented ground. Now the most of it is rough ground or winterage. There’s about 40 acres of good fields and that would be used for silage and the rest is rougher grazing. We’d be running about 60 ewes and 70 sucklers.”
The Burren is more synonymous with sucklers but sheep is where Damien’s preference lies. In 2018, he began showing sheep and he was firmly bitten by the showing bug.
Sufftex, a cross between Suffolk and Texel, is the breed he specialises in. Damien is also crossing the progeny of these back on Sufftex in order to get the type of sheep he wants.
“I started showing under the Corkscrew Hill prefix back in 2018 and 2019. Unfortunately, COVID-19 stopped things for two years but I started back this year and we’ve seven or eight shows won out in the commercial section.
“I really enjoy the showing, things like going to the different shows, meeting different people and seeing the other breeds too. It’s a great interest and I’ve a good team behind me too. Joe O’Loghlen and his wife, Siobhan, help out as well as neighbours, Leah and Roisin McNamara. My daughter Aoibhín (five) and nephew Kyle (six) help out too.”
Damien and his team have been racking up the mileage heading to shows locally in north Clare and up to Mayo and, recently, his sheep competed at the national livestock show in Tullamore, which was a particular highlight.
“Yeah, that went well for us. In the commercials, I won the breeding ewe lamb class, breeding ewe and breeding hogget classes and I won the overall champion commercial sheep so it proved a good day out.
“Swinford Show is on the cards next. We’ve been to Bonniconlon, Athenry, Claregalway, Corrundulla, Ennistymon, Corofin and I got champion sheep of the show in three or four of them.”
With the showing in mind, lambing begins in January in an effort to have strong lambs for the show circuit.
Most of Damien’s ewes are commercial with the bulk of the lambs sold through Ennis Mart with some going the factory route.
He also has some pedigree Suffolk and Texels which he purchases from neighbour Raymond Casey for crossing but his primary focus is on building up Sufftex numbers.
“I’d be looking to cross the pair of hoggets that won in Tullamore with a good Sufftex ram and hope that they’d have better lambs than themselves.
“I had a pen of Sufftex hoggets in the show and sale in Ennis recently. I was getting €315 for them but I held on to them. They weren’t good enough for the showing scene but I’m going to breed them now instead. I had a pen of ewe lambs that made €184 and I let them go.
“I have sheep since I was six or seven years of age. I have more interest in the sheep than the cattle to be honest.”
Despite sheep being the preference, fragmented holdings and the nature of much of the land means sucklers are more practical to run on this Burren farm. Damien has stock suited to the area too.
“The cows are mostly Limousin cross Shorthorn or Limousin-Hereford crosses. They’re an easier-fed cow here on the mountains. A big, big cow, she doesn’t live up there, she needs attention and better feeding but a young, hardier, smaller cow she’ll do well. They breed the same calves as the bigger ones after.
“The main weights we’d sell at would be from 250kg to 280kg. The type of feeding around here wouldn’t get them into bigger weights.”
February to May is calving season and cows come off the winterage for this. Weanlings are sold off the cows from September onwards with the last ones going in December with a combination of return buyers and Kilfenora Mart the principal outlets.
Fragmentation means stock bulls are used instead of AI for breeding and there are currently three bulls on the farm.
Charolais is the bull of choice for the cows and there are a pair of those. One sired by LGL and the other by CF52. A Limousin bull is used on the heifers.
“There’s not too many getting out of sucklers around here. To try go out and get land, it’s fair hard to find it. Around here, you can’t get an acre of land to rent. There’s big suckler demand for it.”
Yellow Charolais weanlings from the Burren are popular sellers and the landscape helps keep costs under control.
Pointing to the limestone mountain behind, he says: “Them are the only things that are saving us, that the cows don’t have to go to the shed.
“If they had to go into sheds and be fed from November, December, January, February, March and April, the same as what most people have to do, it would be tougher. The winterage is our saviour, I think. It takes three or four months feeding off the year.”