Farmland Walk

Farmland Walk

We are running a walk on our farm on February 12th. Ours is not an “open” farm but rather an ordinary commercial one, on which there are cattle for most of the year. For the winter, it is stock free so this is a chance for anyone interested to walk it.

The route will include what we think are some interesting features/stories, an outbreak of Foot-and-Mouth disease in 1941; a small area of woodland planted by Robin about 20 years ago; adjacent to which is an area of wildbird cover planted as part of GLAS, a Norman moated site and the old church and graveyard of Killermogh, which can be traced back as a place of worship to 558.

Hope to see a big crowd on the day.

If you want to read more about the thinking behind the walk, please follow this link to a column Ann wrote in the Farming Independent.


Stuart Meikle writing about farming and food

Since the author started investigating what is happening in the Irish beef sector he has considered that the crisis has resulted from a failure to understand what is happening in Ireland’s primary market, the UK. It shows a failure in the way market information is transmitted between the retail consumer and the farmer. More recently the author has taken a look at the UK supermarket sales. Ideally this would involve visiting stores but for the purposes of this article online is fine as it gives a clear indication of what is happening.

It does not need saying that both the UK and Irish markets are dominated by a few food retailers. Tesco, Lidl and Aldi are common to both. In the UK, Tesco, Sainsbury and Asda are dominant in the fresh meat sector. What is of note is the commonality of their operational practices regardless of national boundaries.


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Two people I have never met made me cry this week …

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Yesterday it was the turn of Irish rugby player 24-year-old Peter O’Mahony. It started with a tear as the camera hovered over him when he was standing in line, belting out Amhran na bhFiann and then Ireland’s Call before the match with Wales. Then there was that moment early in the first half when he stood up and let out a primeval roar having poached the ball off Wales, a pattern which he repeated throughout the match which saw him deservedly being deemed Man of The Match. He played every minute as if it was his last. His passion for rugby and, through it, life, is breathtaking, inspring. I cried with life-reinforcing pride.

Earlier this week I heard that Lucy Stack, the 27-year-old wife of Fozzy Stack, from a highly respected racing family, had taken her own life. In a last letter to friends which was read out at her funeral, she spoke of this being her destiny, of how no phone call or chats over wine could have changed what was about to happen. I cried when I read this. Here was a beautiful young woman, who apparently had so much going for her, was so loved and loving and respected, yet the pull to leave this world was greater. I cried, for the loss to herself, those close to her and what lies in store for them. Life can be so fragile.

Today, O’Mahony will be battered and bruised but his family and friends will be bursting with pride. The hearts of Lucy Stack’s family and friends will be bursting too, but with an incomprehensible grief.
May she rest in peace.

CNN visit our farm

No, there hasn’t been an alien landing or gold discovered in Ballacolla. Sorry!


But there was great excitement and several near misses as passing drivers craned their necks for a better look when a CNN International crew visited the farm yesterday. Jim Boulden CNN Business Correspondent based in London and Business Assignment Editor Carol Jordan (originally from Youghal, Co. Cork) are doing a series of programmes about Ireland’s upcoming exit from the financial bailout and visited the farm to speak to Robin about beef farming. They also spoke to Padraig Brennan, Bord Bia Senior Business Analyst about Ireland’s targets for increased food production.

The world is seeking to expand food production by 70pc over the next four decades but reduce greenhouse gases emissions by a similar order. In this context, Bord Bia, the Irish Food Board, last year presented a pioneering sustainability programme entitled Origin Green, in which Ireland set out its ambition to become a world leader in the delivery of sustainable, high quality food and drink products. Agriculture is Ireland’s largest indigenous industry and Ireland is the largest net exporter of beef in the EU and indeed the Northern hemisphere while exports of Irish dairy products look set to increase dramatically from 2015 onwards with the abolition of milk quotas. So big challenges lie ahead … how to increase production and become more sustainable at the same time. Origin Green is fronted by Irish actress Saoirse Ronan, see


While our older daughter Sarah (9) did get to meet the crew, 6-year-old Ruth, when offered the option, blandly said, “Mammy, I have no interest in meeting CNN.” Carol was saying about how well they had been received everywhere they went. Well, as Valda Boardman, International communications consultant with Bord Bia pointed out, that was because of themselves, they were so so nice, really warm, pleasant and unfussy. Padraig and Valda came in for a cuppa after but Carol, Jim and cameraman Simon decided to leave to give Jim’s voice a chance to recover. They are due to head home today, weather permitting. You would never think it from the sky in the above pic but a right good storm has whipped up here overnight … so hope they do get going.

The programmes will be shown on CNN International next week, the one including agriculture on the Wednesday, either at 9am or 9pm. I will post up link when it comes available.

Welcome to Winter


For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven. 

A time to be born and a time to die. 

A time to plant and a time to harvest. 


(Ecclesiastes 3)

Even for those who are not very religious would have to admit that The Bible says an awful lot of good stuff. That could be because those who wrote it had some sort of divine inspiration … or just that they were very astute observers of the world and its ills.


Here in this island we have just had our sunniest summer in decades but, though Winter may have officially have arrived yesterday, it has been making its presence felt these past three weeks. Temperatures remain relatively high, (we are still getting fresh raspberries every day!) have been easing but, as usual in Ireland, its the arrival of the rain that really heralds the changing of the season. 


Then, last evening, much to Robin’s horror, when myself and the girls were out “riding” the little fat pony Rosie, the first Whooper swans of the season flew just feet over our heads. They come here from their Icelandic breeding grounds when winter arrives there; its not often that visitors come to Ireland for the weather! Sorry no pic, camera safe at home.

During the summer we loved the long sunny days and being outdoors well into the late evening.  Now, during the shortening days and watery sunshine of the Halloween break we have been harvesting some of our bumper crops of apples; we then race indoors for some warming food and snuggle down around a nice wood fire. We are well ready for it … and love it just as much.


Going global ???

Going global ???

Four weeks ago we launched our book A Year on Our Farm. After that we were interviewed by Damien O’Reilly for RTE 1 Radio 1’s very popular CountryWide programme. Then it was on to the Ploughing where we sold 330 books and about half those who bought mentioned that they had heard us on CountryWide.
So there I was on Friday night when I noticed that CountryWide had posted a link about Damien being interviewed by Trent Loos, the Voice of Rural America whose Loos Tales programme is aired on over 100 stations and who has 3m listeners on air and on-line. Thinking that it would be interesting to hear Damien on the other side of the table as it were, I clicked the link.
Damien did really well talking about Irish farming and our grass-based beef production and the thought was running gosh, wouldn’t it be wonderful to get a mention in this company when suddenly I nearly fell off the chair …. Have a listen !!!

You know the year is drawing in when …..

The Ploughing is over and the Pumpkins are harvestedImage

Every year on the land is different and no year goes by without its challenges. Last year, it was the seemingly never-ending rain, this year it was the drought, in Spring, again in Summer and, amazingly, once more now in the middle of Autumn. We have had a blast of Indian summer over the past couple of weeks, strawberries and roses are back in flower …. As to where this means we are going and where it will end is another matter entirely, lets just enjoy it for now.

Ballacolla has always tried to claim that the Ploughing came of age on its first visit here in 1995 … and it did … but Ratheniska now has the honour of hosting its biggest ever attendance, of over 100,000, on the Wednesday. What a testament to the NPA but more so to the people of Ireland, to their resilience and enthusiasm and zest for life.

Business was done, friendships were renewed and new ones made as the harsh national economic realities were parked for a few (“short” is the word which sounds like it should be used here but they were far from it) days.

For our own part, the Farming Independent allowed us to set up camp on their stand to sell our book A Year on our Farm. Loads of people had heard us interviewed on RTE1 radio’s Countrywide programme with Damien O’Reilly or seen the fantastic review on the Farming Independent. While we were delighted with the sales what was even more heartening was the goodwill shown to us; Irish people do not give praise lightly but, when they do, they mean it. One woman had kept a daily diary for over 30 years, another couple had been taking in students for just as long; these and other stories were a joy to hear.

Sarah (pictured) took a day off school to join us on the stand while six-year-old Ruth did likewise … though she was far more interested in spending money and the array of goods was never ending. I just wish I could go back when it was all a bit quieter; still I did manage to get a couple of gorgeous scarves for myself and some early Christmas presents.

The nights are now starting to draw in and everyone has returned from whence they came, with pockets depleted but spirits enriched.

From the Known to the Unknown


Last night, Killermogh Church had its annual harvest service and, afterwards, some of the congregation (everybody was invited!) came back to our house for a cup of tea and a chat.

I was raised a Catholic where we don’t have such a service but I think it has to be one of the nicest in the Protestant calendar. The church was decorated with the fruits of the congregation’s gardens and orchards and the theme is two-fold, giving thanks for what we have and remembering those with much less, good lessons for every day of the week.

We had a busy weekend, heading to Dublin for our RTE Radio 1 Countrywide interview on Saturday morning and then back home to finish the very-rare dusting of the house and doing some backing, including the pictured mini-apple pies. When I started doing the harvest service teas three years ago we used to offer people a slice of tart but came to the conclusion that its just too awkward trying to juggle a mug of tea, a plate and a fork. But these little guys go down a treat; I make 9 dozen in total but did stash a few away for the girls’ lunch today as they just love them.

Today was spent gathering up the final few bits for The Ploughing – posters, press release, as we prepare to head to Ratheniska and the Farm Indo stand (S300) where we will be trying to sell our new book A Year on our Farm. We have absolutely no idea how its going to go … which is exciting and scary in equal measure.

Time to close now as it will be an early start. Oh, the giddiness of the unknown.

A Year on our Farm review


We are delighted and have been amazed by the reaction to our book which was launched by Damien O’Reilly here on farm in Ballacolla, Co Laois last Monday night.

There have been phone-calls and emails and people stopping us the traffic lights in the village to say well done. I was really chuffed with Damien’s review (above) in Irish Country Living. My mum who died 20 years ago next month, having been widowed  after just eight years of marriage and raised four kids on a mixed farm in West Limerick, would have been so proud to have something I had done described as “a service to farming“. And for me to be spoken of in the same breath as Sean MacConnell is just massive. Sean wrote about agriculture and the countryside with a clarity, honesty and impartiality that I envied and admired. 

I know that most of the communications since the launch have been from our friends but among them are people whom I know do not dish out praise lightly. Its one thing to think that something is nice; its quite a different matter to say it.

One e-mail was from a lady who wrote about her experience of moving in with her farming in-laws on marriage and how, she like ourselves, managed to make a go of it. But she also wrote of how, shortly after marriage, she was hunted out of the yard by her father-in-law when she went to assist at a calving, and she never went back after that.

Several people have come back to order more books and some of these are being sent abroad.

I dropped five books in the local shop in Ballacolla on Thursday afternoon and, a couple of hours later, they were down to one; a further five went in the following 24 hours. Of course I know there is no way this pace can be kept up but we are enjoying it while it lasts. I think myself that the appeal is the honesty and frankness; its about something wholesome and positive, with all the animals and people in their “working clothes”.  As for the photos, which were taken by moi, I am not a trained photographer. Instead I “sprayed and prayed” and perhaps my prayers were answered on a few occasions. 

A Year on our Farm is on sale in Eason, Portlaoise, priced €18.99 or on our website, for €17.99 & €7 P&P.

A Year on our Farm book launch


So two years work comes to fruition in the publication of our book A Year on our Farm, written by my husband Robin Talbot and myself Ann Talbot, who are pictured here with Damien O’Reilly of RTE 1 at the launch on our farm on September 9.

I think it was a fabulous night. I know that I am biased but that has also been the overwhelming response from the massive crowd who turned up, between 500 and 600 people. In the days running up to the launch Ii had been trying to keep caterer Shelagh Maher updated on numbers but on one occasion she just texted me “don’t worry Ann we will feed them all.” And she did, with an array of delicious sandwiches and buns. Apparently they baked 720 buns and less than 20 were left. We had also bought two boxes of Tayto crisps (each with 60 bags) and they were all eaten bar 2!

We have received many phonecalls and emails in the since from those who were here and (so far) everyone has been so positive, about the launch and the book. I know that people might be less likely to contact us with something negative to say .. but they don’t have to contact us at all, yet many have.

Publisher John McNamee said beforehand that if we sold close to 100 books it would be a “win”; in the event, we sold over 240.

We were so lucky with the weather; it turned out to be what looks to have been the last evening of the summer. The very next evening, Robin suggested that it would soon be time to think of lighting the fire.

I have never been involved in anything like this before. The closest was our wedding but that went on for much of the day while, this time, people starting arriving after 6pm and everyone was gone shortly after ten. So it was a total whirlwind. MC for the evening was John Finlay, a local farmer but much more who had spent at least an hour talking to me that morning in order to prepare himself … and he did a fabulous job, as did the speakers Michael Bergin of Laois Partnership, John McNamee, Robin and Damien O’ Reilly. I also spoke too but eventhough I had everything scripted am just not very good at it. Though I did manage a laugh or two. 

Overall the tone was very positive and I really felt that Damien got what we were trying too do, to write a book which would give some recognition to farmers for the fantastic and important job that they do but which was also accessible to general consumers and would give them some insight into where their food comes from, what really happens on a farm in the early 21st century. It is, as far as I know, the first book of its kind, a book about a commercial farm written from the insiders view.

So now the book is out there and will hopefully take flight. We will be doing an interview with Damien for his Countrywide programme on September 21; then its on to The Ploughing.