Dale Orr of Churchtown Farm in County Down

"I decided that organic farming was the only way I wanted to farm because it is sustainable and gives due consideration to animal welfare and the environment."

Dale OrrChurchtown Farm is a 200 ha mixed livestock and arable farm located on the picturesque shores of Strangford Lough in Co Down, Northern Ireland. The farm keeps 130 beef cows, 200 ewes and one Tamworth sow. The breeds were chosen specifically for the flavour of their meat which is sold in the farm shop, farmers markets and online. The cattle are Aberdeen Angus, Beef Shorthorn and Hereford and the sheep are pure-bred Lleyn.

Can you give a short history of how you got to where you are now, including why and when you 'went organic'?

Coming home from university in 1996, I decided that organic farming was the only way I wanted to farm because it is sustainable and gives due consideration to animal welfare and the environment. Nothing could be more satisfying than walking through fields of contented animals in a diversity of natural wildlife.

I began conversion in 1998 and soon realised that the opportunity existed to sell my organic meats directly to consumers in my locality. I spent two years training in meat technology and gained the necessary approvals to open my shop and become the first farmer in Northern Ireland to sell certified organic meat. I was fortunate to win a number of national awards for the quality of my beef and lamb and so set up my own website to sell to a wider public. I now supply organic beef, lamb and pork to customers all over the UK and Ireland.

Who are your customers and where are they?

My customers are varied and widespread, old and young, and come from all sectors of society. They realise that our meat costs a little extra, but feel it is a price worth paying. They appreciate the quality and care that has gone into producing it. They are reassured that our meat is safe and traceable back to our farm and continue to return to us. Many have become friends.

What do you love most about what you do?

I love the variety of my work. One day I may be working with the cows on the farm, the next I may be cutting meat in the farm shop, and the next I may be selling it in St George’s Market in Belfast. Every day is different with a different challenge and a different satisfaction. Positive customer feedback in the farm shop or at farmers’ markets reinforces my belief that I am doing something worthwhile and encourages me to take the business forward in the future.

What do you find most frustrating about what you do?

My main frustration is not being able to find enough hours to do everything I would like to do. I would like to spend more time developing my business and expanding my product range. I have ideas for novel and interesting products for the future but I haven’t yet found the time to develop them. Let’s hope I will, one day soon.

What other organic ventures do you admire and why?

I recently had the privilege of visiting Abbey Home Farm in Gloucestershire and was very impressed by the work of John Newman there. The animals were very healthy and obviously content, the farm shop was incredibly well stocked with a good range of organic produce, the majority of which had been produced on the farm. I left Abbey Home Farm inspired to explore new ideas in the future.

Who or what is your biggest inspiration?

My biggest inspiration, is a customer of mine, John Boyle, of Boylesports.com. He inspired me to make changes in my life and gave me the confidence to progress the business further and believe that Churchtown Farm will be incredibly successful in the future.

What is the most important lesson life has taught you?

The most important lesson I have learned is to stay calm, no matter what challenges arise. This enables you to respond best to these challenges and achieve a successful result out of any situation.

When were you happiest?

I was happiest as a child working together with the men on the farm, during the summer holidays. The ‘craic’ was great and there was always plenty to do and a great sense of team spirit created by my Uncle Frankie. My goal is to maintain a similar team spirit within my own team at Churchtown Farm, where everyone is happy and motivated to achieve the best possible results.

What is your favourite word?

My favourite words are a local expression ‘no bother’. When I thank a local person for doing something for me and they say ‘no bother’ it means they appreciated me saying thank you and we both feel good.

What is your favourite meal?

My favourite meal is scampi and chips, followed by apple pie and ice cream.

To find out more visit www.churchtownfarmorganicproduce.com



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