Country Canines placed in UFU farm diversification competition

Friday, 15 January, 2021

Third place in the first ever UFU farm diversification competition goes to Country Canines founded by Amy McIlhatton.

I farm with my husband Jason outside Ballybogey, Ballymoney. We live on the farm with our two Great Danes Lincoln and Theo.

There is 70 acres in total and we have two free-range hen houses which we built in 2015 and 2016. We produce a total of 32,000 eggs every day for Ballygarvey Eggs. Through the years we have also invested in converting existing sheds to sheep housing and an old milking parlour into a handling area. We currently lamb approximately 200 sheep, have 40 beef cattle and now rent a further 60 acres.

A passion for animals

I have always enjoyed the outdoors and have a passion for everything ‘animal’!  Horses have been a huge part of my life. At the age of six I started Saturday riding lessons and became a qualified instructor by the age of 20 with two horses of my own.

In 2011 I met Jason and a year later we purchased our farm. We started out by repairing a disused poultry house where we raised several crops of turkeys for Moy Park, and bought our first 40 sheep.

Diversifying 

Country Canines is a luxury boarding facility for dogs. Northern Ireland has the highest percentage of dog owners in the UK, with more than a third of households being home to a canine friend. These days, dogs are considered very much part of the family with most living indoors and sleeping on sofas, however traditional kennels do not reflect this pampered lifestyle. Therefore, I wanted to create a home-from-home environment where dogs are safe and secure, but without having to sacrifice their home comforts. With underfloor heating, private grass runs, TVs and orthopaedic bedding, our boarding facility is more akin to a five-star hotel than it is kennels.

Having the farm on our doorstep means there are endless walking opportunities through lanes and fields, with secure off-lead areas for dogs to track some countryside scents.

Stand out achievements

For a business which relies on people going on holidays and days away, the fact that we persevered and opened our doors for the first time in 2020 I think is an achievement in itself. Despite not being able to go far, we have customers who make repeat bookings for their dogs just for the day so they can enjoy being here and getting long country walks. That is a huge compliment to the business.

I will always try to go the extra mile for people and their dogs. It is not always cost-efficient, but in my opinion, it is more important to build up a solid business with customers who are really happy with the service you provide than it is to try and squeeze out every penny of profit.

Much needed traits

Patience and resilience have to be top of the list when starting something new. Things do not always go to plan, and I think anyone who deals with livestock or machinery can relate to that. It’s important to focus on the big picture and try not to sweat the small stuff.

It’s important to always prepare for the worst and everything costs more than you think!  It’s great to have a plan, but you must be realistic about the fact there will be times when ideas need altered due to practicality or budget. Try to understand the pros and cons of what you’re planning to do and as much as you don’t appreciate it at the time, it’s helpful to have someone playing the devil’s advocate.

I think everyone looks at something and says to themselves, ‘I would have done it this way’ or ‘they should have done that.’ So to be able to build a business from scratch and have it exactly the way you want it is fantastic. Even though it can be daunting at times, not to mention stressful, when you get happy customers and positive feedback it makes every bad day you had worthwhile.

Biggest challenge

Dividing our time between the farm and a new project was definitely challenging.  Now that it’s finished, everything runs smoothly (for the most part!). However there were times when there wasn’t enough hours in the day. Particularly when dry weather arrived and you needed to make the most of it before the rain came back.

Hopes for the future

There is no getting away from our typical Northern Irish weather, and with frequent downpours and muddy fields it’s not always ideal walking conditions for a fluffy white Bichon Frise. With this in mind, one of the things that is definitely on our to-do list is a large, purpose-built indoor play area. This would also give us the opportunity to rent it out individually to the public.  Dog owners are always on the hunt for areas where they can let their pets off lead and is safe and secure. Where they know they are not going to meet other dogs as many are not well socialised. In light of the current pandemic, it would also provide a very safe option for those who are worried about maintaining social distancing in busy parks and other dog walking areas.

Advice

My advice to anyone thinking on starting up something new, whatever you diversify into, make sure you have a passion for it.  There are countless ways to make money, but if you don’t enjoy it you won’t put the time and effort into it which may ultimately cause it to fail.  If it’s something you are passionate about then have the confidence to go for it!

Find out more

Our website is www.countrycanines.com. We post lots on our Facebook and Instagram pages as well, simple search Country Canines Luxury Boarding.  Send us a message or give us a call and we will be happy to help with any bookings or questions!