This is a tale of survival and revival. The story of an artist who moved to the Golden Vale to breed a herd of native cattle.
In 2010, professional artist and bronze-caster, Eavaun Carmody, moved to Killenure Castle, Co. Tipperary. Her busy work life in the city included dealing in antiques, as well as restoring old buildings. She left the hassle of the city and moved her family to the heart of the Golden Vale. She renovated a castle and at the same time, ran a series of successful community workshops, one of which was creating a contemporary art trail (Open Art Killenure – OAK), that encompassed the castle’s history, architecture, and woodlands.
The light bulb moment
A chance conversation in the local pub one night, sparked her interest in reviving a cattle breed, called Dexter. It is a native breed of cattle which had historically been reared, just two miles away, on the nearby Dundrum Estate. Eavaun decided there and then that she wanted to create a link to the past and revive the breed.
Her ‘startup farm’ has since been developed into a successful enterprise, producing a range of premium meat, charcuterie, leather and milk products. Eavaun’s is a unique and intriguing story – all told and sold under the Dundrum Dexter Beef (Killenure Castle) brand.
“People need integrity and authenticity in their lives, and that’s the story behind what these products represent – absolute authenticity.”
How did it all start?
It was an emotional response, the need to resurrect a dormant history that had flatlined, like a sleeping beauty, one that needed a kiss of life.
I decided to see if I could buy some Dexter cattle, but they couldn’t be found anywhere. Following an extensive search, I tracked down and brought home nine animals and placed them on the land, around the curtilage of the castle. The Dexter is a small animal, and I was aware that it was going to take an innovative approach to make it work commercially and that’s why I first looked at the opportunity to design and make premium Dexter leather products.
This whole story is about survival. I could see the Dexter leather wallets being bought by women for their menfolk, who have survived an arduous personal journey or trauma. It’s also about the survival of the breed itself; along with the small farmer, and my survival having moved from the city to a rural area. People need integrity and authenticity in their lives, and that’s the story behind what these products represent – absolute authenticity.
“The herd has since expanded to 800 head of cattle, reared across five local farms, by a very supportive group of farmers.”
Starting a farm from scratch
We held events at the castle where I would present the leather products to international guests, who appreciated the story of the breed.
Over a period of a year, we began selling the meat at food fairs, outside the Cashel Palace Hotel and discovered that people loved the unique taste of the beef.
The revival began three years ago when we decided to go farming in earnest. I asked Eugene Maher, the conservation builder, who helped renovate the castle, to come on board, on the farming side. Neither of us knew anything about farming; we made loads of mistakes, but we are not repeat offenders. The herd has since expanded to 800 head of cattle, reared across five local farms, by a very supportive group of farmers.
“Dexter milk is an A2 type milk which can be attractive to people with certain types of food intolerances. Next year we plan to use our milk in various products such as infant formula.”
Even at the start I always believed that the business would work, but protecting the brand was an important part of that process. This entailed trade-marking specific names from the locality associated with the Dexter breed. We are inclusive, and the idea was to get as many small farmers into the system as possible so that all boats will float on this tide.
Route to market
Our customer segment is the premium niche market. The route to market for our beef, dripping, and charcuterie is through La Rousse Foods into the places like Ashford Castle. La Rousse is a tremendous fan of our beef as well as a very loyal supporter of our business. We are establishing a market for our leather which will be in place by the end of the year, focused on high-end markets in London, Manhattan and possibly Dubai. We have also just started a dairy herd. Dexter milk is an A2 type milk which can be attractive to people with certain types of food intolerances. Next year we plan to use our milk in various products such as infant formula.
“Believe in yourself and be passionate. Don’t listen to others, unless they are trying to teach you positively.”
We recently won a Euro-Toques award, which is the only award handed out by Irish chefs. We were also chosen by Bord Bia to become part of their Super Brands programme. They have taken us on because they consider that it’s a really good story with a really good product. At the moment, we seem to have an incredible amount of people approaching us and wanting to do business with us.
A design for life
We approached Conor Holden in Dingle to decide on what leather products we would make from the skins. We initially looked at jackets, then handbags but for a number of reasons, settled on wallets. I felt that there was a bigger gap in the market for men, so we gravitated towards male products, like wallets. We only have five skins, available to us on a weekly basis, producing at most twelve wallets per skin.
“The hardest decision sometimes is to keep going.”
Financially I planned it in such a way, that we would get more money from one skin than we would make from a whole carcass. We also approached David Lennon in Clonmel, and we can now inlay the wallet presentation box, with a particular design, from the horn or bone of the animal. We expect to make a limited edition of 1,000 wallets in our first year, numbered using our registration system. We also plan to take on special commissions, incorporating bespoke customer designs.
What advice would I give?
The hardest decision sometimes is to keep going. There were a couple of times during the first three years when it appeared everything was against us. However, I would say to anyone starting in business, to believe in yourself and be passionate. Don’t listen to others, unless they are trying to teach you positively, so drive on – and keep moving forward.