The home farm by john heslin

To some I may be better known as a Westmeath and St Loman’s footballer, something which I am very proud to say. GAA, however, is a hobby which requires dedication that mirrors professional athletes.

My profession is agriculture. When people hear this the reply is often: “So you’re a farmer?” Yes, I am a farmer, a qualified farmer if you like.

I graduated from UCD with a degree in Agricultural Science last May and have recently been pursuing a PhD in heifer puberty. My PhD gives me the opportunity to work with a large number of animals, running different trials with the aim to improve the efficiency of beef production.

I am based in Trim, County Meath, which is going to be an experience in itself considering the love/hate relationship we Westmeath Gaels tend to share with our neighbours.

Farming has always been in my family. My father grew up on a dairy farm in Kildare, producing “white gold” for years before he set sail like Columbus and landed in America. My first encounter with farming came on a trip back to the Emerald Isle. I was with my uncle, who was now producing the white gold. I was “helping” in the milking parlour as a child, with all safety measures adhered to, of course.

There was a brief moment when the chill of the parlour ceased to exist, my body was suddenly warm from head to toe. My eyes had closed abruptly and I was clueless to exactly what had just happened until I heard the groans from my uncle: “Ahhhhh jayyyysus”.

The warmth I was feeling came from the cow dung that had landed on my then blonde head of hair. Not such a pretty introduction to the farming world.

Shortly after our arrival in Ireland we purchased our home farm just outside Mullingar. I already had the tractors and trailers – plastic of course – so we were ready to go. My school years passed, aided with helping on the farm, while also having my own heifer or two to retain the interest.

It was my love and interest in farming that inspired me to choose Agricultural Science in UCD. To the town lads in the football club, this was bizarre to say the least. “You’re going to college to do… FARMING?”

During my college years I took a year out. I had been offered a contract to play Aussie Rules with Richmond Tigers in Melbourne. It was an experience of a lifetime and I will always be grateful for that opportunity.

Using “I have road frontage” as a chat-up line, however, didn’t get me too far in the city of Melbourne, so I made for home to finish my degree.

I owe both my interest in football and agriculture to my father and he was delighted with my return. However, when I finished my degree in UCD, he wasn’t as happy. He was happy with my qualification of course, but I had extreme changes in mind for the home farm.

I was going to buy as many cattle as possible. It was going to be a farming fortress, an American style ranch, just massive! Clearly, the long study days had got the best of me and realistically most of this wasn’t going to happen.

Following a discussion with my father, it was agreed that I was going to purchase my own group of heifers.

Over the coming weeks I will share my farming journey to date with you, as well as some of the technical aspects experienced through my studies and PhD that I hope may be of benefit to some readers.