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Conor Halpin
Conor Halpin
Journalism intern.
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‘Would you make a living out of a 100-cow suckler herd?’ – 12-cow suckler farmer

In this week’s Suckler FocusThat’s Farming, speaks to the Beechmount Limousin herd. Denis Collins discusses the family’s decision to leave dairying, using 100% AI, achieving €5,000 for a bull, the cull cow trade and rising input prices.

Denis Collins and his wife, Geraldine, from Callan, County Kilkenny, established their pedigree Limousin herd under the Beechmount prefix 39 years ago.

They initially established the suckler herd as a “side income” before exiting full-time dairy farming. The herd consisted of 75 pedigree Holstein Friesian cows.

They bought their first Limousin female, Curragrange Radience, and her bull calf, Curragrange Tango, for £1,450 at the Irish Limousin Cattle Society sale in Cahir, Tipperary.

The family sold this bull calf at Kilkenny Agricultural Society’s multi-breed bull sale the following spring, and he secured a price of £1,100.

They and their son, Thomas, farm 12 pedigree Limousin cows on 20-acres of land on the Kilkenny-Tipperary border. The Cork farmer moved down to Kilkenny in 1979/1980 to marry Geraldine.

“We had pigs, dairy cows, beef cattle and poultry on the farm when we were growing up. My brother, Padraig, is a dairy farmer, and he milks 400 cows,” Denis Collins explained to That’s Farming.

“So, we were involved in mixed farming when I was young, and then we concentrated more on dairying as the years went by.”

“I was married and had young children, and the income out of farming was not great. I became a milk distributor first, and then I bought into Tullow Milking Machine Supplies Limited.”

“We supply parts for milking machines and import and distribute them. I retired from there about two years ago.”

His ideal cow

The family likes a Limousin cow, big in size, weighing 700kgs to 1,000kgs with good colour, good shape, and is easy calving,

“I find if I have a big cow, you can use a smaller well-shaped bull which will give you a good bull to sell in the spring.”

“In my view, they are easy to keep flesh on. We do not feed much meal. It is all silage the cows got for the winter. They seem to keep their condition well.”

“We need to get into polled Limousins. The biggest problem with that is there are very few good Limousin bulls available that I can cross with my herd.”

“We need to shorten the gestation period to make the dairy farmer like them better. In my opinion, they tend to carry longer than other breeds.”

Beechmount Limousin herd: Denis Collins leaving dairying, using 100% AI, achieving €5,000 for a bull and rising input prices.

Beechmount Limousin herd

The farm uses 100% AI on their herd, which takes them one round.

Some of the main sires they use include Tomschoice Lexicon (LM4471), Tomshoice Nation (LM5611), and Tweedale Lennox (LM4407).

“I have cows all in-calf before I house them. I find if you house the cows, it could be three to four weeks before they come into heat.”

“Also, I spend a lot of time online trying to find AI straws. I find as a pedigree breeder, there are not that many bulls with five stars across the board, and there are not enough of them with different breeding.”

“Usually, I find that all the bulls with good stars are all related too, which makes it more difficult.”

“We have too small of a herd, and it would cost me too much if I wanted to buy a stock bull. I would have to pay €6,000 or €8,000 for a bull and change him every two years.”

“Also, I can carry an extra cow with nitrates regulations. If I have a stock bull, he will have to replace a cow on the farm. So, when you have small numbers, it does not work.”

Calving

The herd calves its cows outdoors from July to the end of September.

In addition, this period enables them to have bulls weighing around 850kgs and at 12-19-months-old for sales.

According to the family, the herd’s calving interval is 365 days, and cows require “very” little calving intervention.

“We have only 12 cows calving. They calve outside in the field. So, we try to compact calving as much as we can.”

The replacements calf between 23-24-months-old.

“We like to have them calving at that time of the year because if we were to let them go any later, they would be out of sync with the herd. Our heifers would be big enough and weigh 400kgs before they are AI’d.”

Beechmount Limousin herd: Denis Collins leaving dairying, using 100% AI, achieving €5,000 for a bull and rising input prices.

Progeny

The farm sells bulls for breeding at a year-and-a-half-old at the Kilkenny Agricultural Society’s multi-breed bull sale or the Irish Limousin Cattle Society spring sales, with the remainder of sales, taking place on-farm.

The herd achieved €5,000 for one bull, Beechmount Jupiter, that they offered for sale in 2018 at the Kilkenny Agricultural Society multi-breed sale.

“Limousin calves out of the dairy herd are making big money in marts.”

“Any farmer who is interested in increasing the value of their calf or making the calf more saleable is interested in Limousin, Hereford, and Angus bulls.”

“However, the Limousin will sell for more money; if you sell them as a calf.”

The Kilkenny-based family sell the same amount of cull cows as heifers they are replacing.

They send their cows for slaughter to Ashbourne Meats, Roscrea, and they grade U3 with a price range of between €1,800-€2,100.

“The best I ever got for a dry cow was in 2018/2019. I took it up to Ashbourne Meats, and I got a cheque back for €2,397.”

“We find that up, until this year, the cull cow will make almost €2,000, whereas if you sell a heifer at a year or a year-and-a-half, it will make €1,300. “

“You are financially better off to put the heifer in-calf for a couple of years. We are also upgrading our stars of the herd by doing that as well.”

Beechmount Limousin herd: Denis Collins leaving dairying, using 100% AI, achieving €5,000 for a bull and rising input prices.

Grassland management and success in pedigree breeding

According to them, grassland management is an “important” practice on the farm due to its “tight” stocking rate.

“We are up near 30 animals on 19-acres. I reseed on a rotation at peak to keep our grass at peak performance.”

“We do not measure our grass. However, we only have 19-20-acres, so it is easy to see what grass we have in front of us and what way things are going.”

They believe having the “experience and knowing what your customer wants” is the way you will find success in pedigree breeding.

“It is the same as a normal commercial farmer going out to buy a bull for a commercial suckler herd. The difference in the price to buy a good bull to a mediocre bull is probably a €1,000.”

“You should buy the best bull available because when you divide it over the number of cows he is going to serve, it is very small money.”

“I suppose that has been a problem with a lot of suckler herds down through the years. They put them in-calf to any bull at all.”

“In my opinion, farmers going out to buy bulls for cheap money is the wrong mentality.”

Beechmount Limousin herd: Denis Collins leaving dairying, using 100% AI, achieving €5,000 for a bull and rising input prices.

Plans and the future of Irish suckler farming

The family intends to maintain a 12-cow herd, focus on improving the herd’s quality and performance and continue to “produce consistently good cattle”.

They also sighted plans to introduce a new synchronisation programme, which they will finalise in conjunction with the farm’s vet.

Furthermore, the family said that their son is “very involved” in the farm operations, including halter-training bulls, and will take over the reins of the farm in the future.

“I believe unless the thing with the war changes things around completely, the future of suckler farming is non-existent.”

“Most of the suckler farmers in this country are at retirement age, and while they are there, there will be suckler cows there. However, the next generation will not keep them because the money is not in it.”

“I believe unless cattle prices stay up where they are at the moment or even higher, our costs are too high and are even rising now. Would you make a living out of a 100-cow suckler herd? I would doubt it?

“Suckler cows are grand for part-time farming where you are not dependent on making a living out of them.”

Input costs will impact me. I use rolled barley to feed my bulls, and it is unknown what way prices will be next winter.”

“If the farmers of Ukraine cannot set their crops this spring, it will lead to a big meal shortage for next winter because they are a big producer of grain, and it will impact the price of everything,” Denis concluded.

To share your story like Beechmount Limousin herd, email Catherina Cunnane, editor of That’s Farming, – [email protected]

See more suckler farming articles,

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