It is said that most people change their career five times in their lifetime. I wonder does this apply to farmers? I can only cite my own experience in that within the realms of running a farm, I began my business life buying store cattle to fatten while at the same time running a disco a few nights a week.
Looking back, I think the disco may well have paid better but the late nights were exhausting. To add to the mix, I began breeding racehorses, a notoriously fickle business and extremely hard work but definitely exciting and occasionally rewarding.
While still working with the horses, against the advice of some old and wise friends, I tried tillage for a time but hit a number of very wet autumns which really took their toll. Still undaunted,
I then added a flock of ewes which in the 1980s proved a winner but, as happens so frequently, boom eventually turned to bust.
It was all a great lesson in how we need to keep costs to a minimum to survive the inevitable downturns in markets. The rampant inflation of that period didn’t help, of course, with overdraft interest rates of 22pc.
And people complain about the increases in the current cost of living! They should have lived through the 1980s but then you have to experience difficulties to learn to appreciate the good times.
At this point I think I have reached five career additions and I haven’t even mentioned forestry yet.
So far it had all been a great education and in my mid-40s, I decided I had to learn how to type in order to use a computer properly.
Attending night classes in the company of one other middle-aged man and a roomful of teenage girls was a bit demoralising given the speed with which the girls all seemed to be able to type properly.
We learnt on the old manual typewriters which left me with aching hands but in hindsight, it was a great way to master the skill. Moving to a personal computer with its light touch keys and fast accountancy facilities opened up a whole new world of opportunity.
A few years later I invested in forestry and planted land both in Meath and in Leitrim.
I found growing trees fascinating and loved every minute of it, watching the different species mature and develop while at the same time fighting with the contractors and coping with grey squirrels and diseases such as phytophthora, ash dieback and, nowadays, the huge increase in deer numbers.
I think I attended almost every forestry event possible, read every book I could lay my hands on that dealt with the subject and gradually learnt the required skills.
I noticed that no one was writing on forestry for the Farming Independent and I began work as a novice correspondent.
Perhaps the biggest reward from writing is the way it puts you in touch with a huge range of interesting and knowledgeable people. My column in the Farming Independent gave me the opening to talk to all of them and begin friendships that have lasted to the present day.
I even spent some time then working within the environmental sector and met many great individuals but as in the world of politics, also learnt that the loudest voices were often the ones who knew least.
Over the years I have received numerous visits to my woods from politicians and most of the movers and shakers in the forestry world.
We used to have great arguments while strolling through woodland, assessing the different tree species and perhaps the most important thing I learnt was that some of the many “experts” simply hadn’t a clue.
You have to learn to trust your own judgement. That can take time but then farming is a wonderful school. How many careers is that? I have lost count but then I hope I am not finished yet and maybe that is the beauty of farming, it will always be challenging but everchanging and never boring.
I mention all of the above to illustrate the endless opportunities there are for additional enterprises in tandem with running a farm.
Just one example is the growing popularity of farm holidays in log cabins within woodland. There are so many possibilities. All that is needed is a bit of imagination, hard work and above all, keeping costs in check.
Looking at the current livestock prices, maybe it could once again be a good time to invest in sheep. The markets will turn. They always do.
Joe Barry is a farmer and forester on the Meath-Kildare border