In this week’s Suckler Focus, That’s Farming, speaks to Longford cattle breeder, John Lynch from the Balinascraw herd. He discusses establishing his own herd, calving heifers at 24-30 months, and securing up to €6,000 for progeny.
Six decades later, John Lynch, Ballinalee, Co Longford, continues his family’s pedigree cattle breeding journey.
He farms 60 commercial cattle, Limousin, Blonde d’Aquitaine, Belgian Blue, and Charolais cows, with his wife, Bernie and son, Stephen.
The 150-acre enterprise is also home to 12 pedigree Limousin cows, 5 pedigree Blonde d’Aquitaine breeding females and a flock of 30 pedigree Vendéen sheep.
“I always had a great interest in farming and pedigree breeding since I was a child,” John Lynch told That’s Farming.
“My father, Pat, and uncle, Denis, had pedigree Hereford cattle, they had two of the top herds in the country. Ballinascraw and Moate Farrell.”
“They had five RDS show champions between them in the 1960s and 1970s.”
Longford cattle breeder
John established the Ballinascraw Limousin herd 41 years ago by purchasing Pelletstown Shirly and Hibernian Unusual from Roger McCarrick.
“I saw the Limousin breed at shows and liked the type of cattle they are with muscle, easy calving ability, shape, and conformation.
“My ideal cow has good size, length, width, enough milk, a good feminine head and good legs.”
In the mid-1990s, John ventured into Blonde d’Aquitaine cattle by acquiring Lough Willow at an Irish Blonde Cattle Society sale in Naas from Mrs Fallen, Wexford.
He later bought a second female, Lough FiFi, from the same herd.
“I like the extra bit of length they have. You have a better kill-out rate than any other breed because of their extra length.”
“I do not kill many cattle, but some would achieve up to a 70% kill-out.”
John and his family AI 30% of their herd (mostly pedigrees).
The herd uses AI sires, including Derryolam Matt (CH4436), Lodge Hamlet (LM4058), Goldies Jackpot (S3104), Netherhall Jackpot (LM4054) and Wilodge Joskins (LM2188), Gorrycam Notorious (LM5151) and Orme De Somme (ODY).
“The best Blonde d’Aquitaine bull we used was Whistley Dollar. We always used a fair share of AI down through the years.”
The family run two Limousin bulls: Ballinascraw Rooney and Ballinascraw Mofassa. The bulls go out with cows in the month of April, with most served by August.
“The bulls get 30 cows each. One of these is only a young bull I am keeping for the first time. The bull has five or six cows served already and has more to cover in the spring.”
The herd once ran a Tullamore Show first prize-winning bull, Ballinascraw Irish Rover. He received this accolade as a calf.
John shared his opinion on the genetic pool available to breeders.
“The Limousin genetic pool is good. There is not as much of a genetic pool for the Blonde d’Aquitaine.”
“There is more of a selection of Limousin bulls. The Irish Limousin Cattle Society bring in French straws, and the Irish Blonde Cattle Society sometimes bring in French straws.”
The Lynch family calf their pedigree cows in the autumn and commercial herd in spring.
John explained that the herd requires very little assistance during calving.
“Calving during these periods spreads out the workload. My son is there to help out if help is needed.”
“We usually lamb the week before Christmas and the week after Christmas. It fits in fairly good as a lot of the autumn-calving cows would be finished calving, and spring-calvers would not have started.”
“You want a good strong bull to sell in the springtime from 15-18 months for pedigrees.”
“They are 12-months or 18-months at that age. So, autumn is the best time to have them calving.”
“We calf commercial sucklers in spring closer to grass growth, so we can get them out straight away, weather permitting. I aim for a compact calving period, but it does not always work out.”
John and his family scan the commercial herd yearly, with all females receiving pre-calving minerals during housing.
The herd achieves a 365-day calving interval through feeding pre-calving minerals, keeping cows in good order, and stress-free calvings.
John calves his heifers from 24-30-months old. “They are strong enough to go to the bull when they are a year-and-a-half or a bit along with that age. They might as well earn their keep as soon as they can.”
The family retain up to 8 heifers. They sell up to six pedigree bulls, the majority of which are Limousin, for breeding purposes.
“We retained a good few heifers in the last few years. In essence, we culled some of the older cows and kept more of the heifers.”
“We do sell heifers at Irish Limousin Cattle Society sales or privately when we have anything for sale.”
“If quality is good enough, there is good demand. Both the pedigree and commercial top-end breeding heifers are a very good trade.”
“I receive between €3,000 and €6,000 for the pedigrees and €900-€1,500 for commercials.”
“Bulls, usually a mixture of Limousin and Blonde d’Aquitaine cattle, are exported at 9-12 months.”
The family culls up to six cows in the herd yearly due to illness or age.
The following is a list of the herd’s achievements:
- Receiving top performer in weight gain and confirmation categories with Ballinascraw Va Va Voom in Tully Test Centre;
- Limousin cow, Ballinascraw Money Penny, achieving champion at Longford, Granard, Cloone, Mullingar, and Tullamore Shows – 2019;
- Limousin cow, Ballinascraw Classic, receiving reserve champion at the 2009 Tullamore Show, junior Limousin champion at 2008 Tullamore Show, followed by reserve overall champion and RDS champions of champions in 2009;
- Picking up a national champion with a Blonde d’Aquitaine cow, Ballinascraw Glory, four years consecutively at Tullamore Shows
- Her daughter, Ballinascraw Lady in Red, achieved champion at Tullamore Show 2018.
Other successes include many All-Ireland titles with pedigree Vendéen sheep, including 6 out of 8 sheep at the last championships at the Irish Vendéen Sheep Society premier sale.
John shared some guidance for aspiring pedigree breeders.
“Your own judgement is the main thing, and to stick with whatever type of cattle you like. Some people chop and change and end up nowhere.”
“I think if you have your own beliefs and stay with them, that is the best idea.”
John intends to continue his current farming system and produce the best progeny he can.
“My plan for the next few years is to keep going the same as we are as long as we have the health to do it so.”
Commenting on the future of Irish suckler farming, he said:
“It is not looking that bright at present. With policies trying to cut cow numbers, it does not help the situation.”
“I think a lot of government and EU policies are against suckler cows, which is a pity. I think they will regret this in time.”
“They are blaming cows for climate change which is the greatest load of rubbish that ever was; just because they are a soft touch on the farmers.”
“They will not blame who is responsible for it. It is an easy way out just to blame suckler cows.”
“Dairy cows seemingly do not pass wind as much as the beef ones,” the cattle breeder concluded.
To share your story like this Longford cattle breeder, email Catherina Cunnane, editor of That’s Farming, – firstname.lastname@example.org
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