The Boons family farm is situated outside the village of Lorrha, in North Tipperary. The 57 acre farm was originally part of the Redwood Castle Estate and sits on the borders of three counties – Offaly, Galway and Tipperary.
Home to Jan, Monique and their daughters, Julia and Kayla, and Freddie (the family dog) is a beautiful old farmhouse, lovingly restored. The farm has 200 goats and about 50 kids; The Boons breed mostly Saanen goats, distinctive for their dramatic white coats, and also a small number of the French Alpine variety. Each goat produces about three litres of milk per day.
From Holland originally, Jan and Monique met at agricultural college and dreamed of starting their own farm. Jan was brought up on an organic dairy farm in Holland and had long harboured a plan to work with goats. After much research, the Boons settled in Ireland in 1999 and began to supply Glenisk with fresh goats’ milk.
“Something about goats always interested me”, says Jan. “They are independent, lively and dynamic animals with a very distinct temperament. For me, goat farming is a business but I’d also describe it as hobby. You can’t work seven days a week at something if you’re not passionate about it.” Jan believes it is more challenging to work with goats than other animals and he sees it as a partnership approach: “Goats react badly to stress so it’s important to work with them, to ensure their living conditions are comfortable and that their routines are upheld.”
Demand for goats’ milk has increased in recent years, with growing anecdotal evidence that it may be beneficial for those with asthma, eczema and digestive complaints. At Glenisk, we are always amazed at the letters we receive outlining the way in which switching to goats’ milk has apparently transformed health and alleviated symptoms. Many people are also surprised at how mild and creamy fresh goats’ milk tastes.
While Jan is mainly responsible for the goats on the farm, Monique is kept busy with other projects. As well as part-time work and caring for the girls, she grows her own organic fruit and vegetables and raises chickens. She is also a fantastic baker as we discovered during our visit when she treated us to some home-made strawberry cheese cake, created with goats cheese.
The girls, who are fluent in both Dutch and English (as well as diligently learning Irish), also help out on the farm, but it competes with lots of other interests. As well as school, Julia and Kayla are busy with extra-curricular activities including sports and especially horse-riding.
The Boons have also recently renovated one of the old farm buildings which is now a self catering cottage. Available to rent throughout the year, the cottage allows you to escape the hustle & bustle and enjoy life on the farm.
nature is a key
part of my life and
why I’m interested
From Dundrum, County Tipperary, Patrick O’Brien is one of Glenisk’s organic farmers. Patrick manages a herd of over 70 milking cows on more than 150 acres of organic farmland in Tipperary, where his love of farming was established at an early age. Patrick comes from a farming family, growing up in Tipperary surrounded by his parents’ dairy herd (and the odd trio of hens and family dogs). Patrick’s parents and cousin are also involved in farming. As a kid, Patrick’s favourite part of farm life was seeing the new calves after they were born and all the excitement of what the new additions to the herd would be like. As an adult, Patrick began farming his own beef enterprise but transitioned back to dairy after completing a course in dairy management at Reaseheath College in England. He says dairy farming is always interesting and he enjoys it more. Nowadays, Patrick (also a qualified teacher) is busy running his organic dairy farm, teaching, and studying. Patrick is very thankful to his parents for their help in developing his farming enterprise, and is honoured to be carrying on the tradition.
Patrick converted his farmland to organic production about four years ago, amid concerns about the impact that artificial fertilizers and sprays were having on his land and his animals. By eliminating these artificial inputs, Patrick has reduced pollution and improved the health of his soil, herd, and the surrounding environment. Patrick believes that organic is a more sustainable way of farming, and making the switch helped him reduce the chemicals and pollution on his family land. Animal health is his biggest priority, and as an organic farmer, Patrick must “focus on prevention and the animal itself.” Patrick has chosen specific breeds that are well suited to his type of farming and finds that animal health is better because he focuses on specific breeds for health, including crossed Friesian, Jersey, Shorthorn, and Brown Swiss cows. Patrick has also seen a difference in his cows’ choice of feed. Because the ditches and hedges around his land aren’t sprayed with chemicals, Patrick finds that his cows like to eat different plants as they move from pasture to pasture, seeking out a variety of natural vitamins and minerals.
Every day you learn
In organic farming, says Patrick, the main key to being successful is thinking ahead. Because there are no synthetic chemicals allowed in organic farming, soil management and grassland planning become paramount. Patrick says he always has a backup plan, and that he has learned a lot since converting to organics. In fact, he is part of a discussion group with other farmers to share best practice and he enjoys learning from other farmers in the area. When asked what his favourite part of farming is, Patrick says it’s still the same moments he loved as a kid – meeting the calves. For Patrick the excitement of seeing what the new calves will be like is only matched by the glee of his nieces and nephews who visit the farm to meet the new-borns.