Why this Laois farmer’s pedigree Angus is such a big hit with local dairy farmers

Laois farmer Michael G Phelan was busy last week with the nearby Plowing Championships and selling 15 ewe lambs from his pedigree Kerry Hill flock.

Ichael, who also raises pedigree Angus cattle and is well known in plowing circles, says the last few months have been good for the farm.

“Thanks to our good weather, it’s quiet now on the farm front with all the silage and corn cut,” he says. “There are still people wanting to buy a few lambs, which is always good.

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Michael’s stud Angus at Ballygarvan Curragh

“I usually also help with the Plowing while trying to arrange parking for the thousands of people who attend each day.”

He started farming on the home farm outside Ballacolla, young after his father died when he was three years old. “So I became a farmer after leaving school early when I was about 14.”

Until 1997, after milking cows, he switched to dairy farming and breeding.

“Even in the dairy operation I always had an Angus bull and I took the Angus breed and have been with it ever since,” he says.

Today, he has 25 purebred Angus cows and all his followers.

Michael likes them because they are easy to calve and easy to meat.

“You can finish them faster than other breeds,” he says. “And they’re in good demand – with the amount of dairy farmers around me, I get repeat buyers.”

Farming with his dog Teddy, he says he also has a big trade for Kerry Hill sheep, as there aren’t many of them in the country.

Last week he sold all the ewe lambs at home to repeat buyers from as far afield as Shannonbridge and Blessington.

“Kerry Hill sheep are distinguished by their color with a white face, black eyes and black nose and ears,” he says. “They are beautifully marked sheep.

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Michael’s Kerry Hill ewe

“I bought my first ones in Portumna years ago and after a few years I brought a ram from Wales to try to improve them.”

Originating from a small area in Wales called Kerry, the breed is “great little mothers and easy lambs”.

“They look like Angus cattle,” he says.

Michael is also chairman of the Woodenbridge Paddlers Association, which is working on plans for a 14km water feature in Co Laois. However, these plans caused a leak due to the rare pearl mussel.

The Erkina Blueway, which will connect Rathdowney and Durrow, is accessible by small boats and canoes, along with riverside walking and cycling paths.

The works include stream management, information signage, access and exit points and car parking improvements – all commissioned by Laois County Council.

However, a small number of freshwater pearls have been found upstream from the village of Durrow, which stops within a kilometer of the Blueway.

According to Michael, work on the project has been going on for nearly 30 years in various forms, but it began in earnest in 2009.

“We are working with Blueways Ireland, Fisheries Ireland, the local authority, Birdwatch Ireland and National Parks and Wildlife Service Ireland,” he said. “The project received great support from local businesses as well as many organizations and agencies.

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Michael and Laois riders Ronan Broderick, Willie Dunphy, Mark Hennessy and James Ryan turned out with Woodenbridge Paddlers in support of the Erkina Blueway Project.

“This pearl mussel, now very few in number, has been found for a kilometer or so of the river, making this part of the Blueway impassable. The problem centers around in-stream work.

“We are looking into solutions to this problem and we have spent €20,000 on inquiries but until we know what is going on there will be signage etc along the route. there is no point in posting.

“It prevents a lot of potential businesses like canoeing and recreational rentals and cafes.”

Several local politicians have been involved in the project, with junior finance minister Seán Fleming addressing the pearl mussel issue in the Dáil.

Michael says the situation is “disappointing because there is a lot of tourism potential here because of the river and the amenities it can provide.

“Many enterprises in the region provided financial assistance to implement this project. There were many visitors here in June, July and August and more should be used.

“If we had not encountered the pearl mussel problem, then the whole project would have been completed last year.”

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