Pat Mckenna farms a Dexter suckler herd in Co. Monaghan. The farm is situated on 60 acres of marginal land at the foothills of Sliabh Beagh. The herd consists of about 90 cattle and Pat operates a calf to beef system. The premium Dexter beef is sold direct to restaurants and local customers. Pat is passionate about the Dexter breed; their smaller size and hardy nature makes them perfect grazers for the hilly land around Sliabh Beagh.
Last year Pat took part in the Sliabh Beagh conservation grazing trial. The objective of this trial is to reduce fire risks on the mountain. Sliabh Beagh is also a hen harrier protected area. “Using cattle and a conservation grazing system on the mountain aims to improve the habitat by breaking down the pasture, loosening it and opening it up.” This means there is more life on the ground thus providing a better chance for the hen harrier and other ground nesting birds.
Pat operates a low impact grazing system on his own farm. No chemical fertilizer is used on the land. The only inputs are farmyard manure, slurry and dry bedding. Pat's farm is located in a curlew protected area, as such he does not cut any grass until July/August. There is a traditional hay meadow on the farm of about 7 acres. There was 12 acres of broadleaf forestry planted 8 years ago, which provides a habitat for many birds and creatures. There are hares, badgers, grouse and pheasant on the land. Pat is passionate about low-impact, high nature value farming – “I see my farm as a habitat - and I farm in ways that encourage wildlife on to the farm.”
Pat is a Dexter farmer in north County Monaghan. He has close to 100 dexter animals. In Glas. No chemical fertiliser input on the pasture. Only manure/slurry. Planted 10 acres broadleaf forestry 8 years ago. Hedges on farm haven’t been touched in 15 years & are fantastic wildlife habitat. He markets beef directly to restaurant trade as it is a premium product.
In 2020, he took part in Sliabh Beagh uplands conservation grazing trial. The environmental objective was to reduce fire risk in the Sliabh Beagh uplands, Natura 2000 site. The dexters are suitable animals for this due to small size and hardy nature. They broke up and grazed sward that formed a heavy fuel load and constituted a fire risk. Pat has a deep understand of the importance of low impact grazing. In order to make the farm enterprise profitable, a direct marketing approach for the product is taken. The way the animals are grazed and their breed make for a superior product, but their smaller size make for smaller cuts. This limits the market and makes the beef a higher end product. This is all tied in with his new conservation grazing approach.
It was Pat who approached the new landowners on Sliabh Beagh in 2020 with the idea of restoring low impact grazing to this area of north county Monaghan uplands. His initiative is a positive example to other farmers. He hopes to enter into the Dept Ag. Hen harrier scheme which will deliver further environmental benefits from this upland grazing regime. He also worked closely with the local group water scheme to insure that there are no impacts on local supply source, close to the grazing site. He has been working closely with the Collaborative Action for the Natura Network project, funded through Interreg, to ensure that activities are in line with habitat information, and conservation actions through this initiative. The project is developing a Wildfire Management Plan for the Sliabh Beagh site in 2021, and the results from the Dexter grazing trial will provide invaluable information for it.
Nominator: Shirley Clerkin, Heritage Officer, Monaghan County Council