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Conor Halpin
Conor Halpin
Journalism intern.
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‘The suckler cow is an important part of the rural economy’ – Galway suckler farmer

In this week’s Suckler FocusThat’s Farming, speaks to Eugene O’Neill. He discusses farming with his father and son, using fixed-time AI, aiming for €1,000+ for weanlings and the future of Irish suckler farming.

Located in Castletaylor, Ardrahan, in the heart of the Burren Lowlands, County Galway, Eugene O’Neill, his youngest son, Killian, and father, Michael, farm 50-acres, which is split into four separate blocks.

He works full-time off the farm, which has been home to suckler cows and sheep since the mid-1970s.

Currently, they operate a 20-cow herd split between pedigree Limousin and Limousin-cross cows and 35 Suffolk-cross ewes, which they breed to a Suffolk ram.

In 2008, they founded their Limousin pedigree herd under the Tonroe prefix. Its establishment sprang from the purchase of a female with a bull calf at foot from the Ruan herd at an Irish Limousin Cattle Society sale in Gort Mart.

“We went up for a look, and there was a cow in the sale with a bull calf at foot, and we took a shine to them and honestly, it was from this purchase that the interest in the Limousin breed grew,” Eugene told That’s Farming.

The family built up their herd from here, purchasing maiden heifers at various North-West Limousin heifer sales and buying heifers privately as they prefer to see the dam.

Their preferred Limousin breeding female is feminine, has good conformation and can rear a calf annually.

“In my opinion, the advantages of the Limousin breed are cows are fertile, milky, and docile, calves are born small, lively, and hardy, and when you are part-time farming, they are things you want.”

Breeding and calving programme

The farm focuses on breeding easy-calving, fertile and docile animals and use an AI programme for all pedigree breeding females and commercial heifers.

A Limousin bull, Granahan Pablo, by Mereside Godolphin (S1630), serves commercial cows.

If they do not observe natural heat, they utilise a fixed-time AI programme, generally carrying out one to two rounds of AI.

They generally achieve 70% conception rates to the first service and scan cows five weeks after AI’ing.

Some of the main AI sires they use include Ewdenvale Ivor (LM2014), Elderberry Galahad (EBY), Loyal (LM4184), Castleview Casino (CWI) and Ivantonov (LM5887).

“In my opinion, there is a good genetic pool available, especially with some of the newer French sires.”

When choosing a stock bull, they focus on easy calving and docility, – which are “important” traits for Eugene’s off-farm employment.

They calf commercial cows indoors in spring, pedigree females calf outdoors in August/September, and heifers calve down between 24-30 months.

According to the family, the herd’s calving interval is below the national average, sitting at circa 355 days.

They believe that “if your cow is not having a calf every 12 months, you are wasting money”. In addition, they purchase replacement ewes, which they lamb indoors during February.

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Progeny

The family retain the “best” breeding females, keep their breeding herd young, and sells pedigree bulls suitable for breeding on-farm through digital media and word of mouth.

“I would like you to note that all pedigree bulls sold are fertility tested, giving great peace of mind to seller and purchaser.”

On the other hand, they sell pedigree bulls and heifers that do not meet the mark for breeding, along with commercial weanlings at Gort Mart.

“I hope to get €1,000 plus for weanlings, but it depends on the night; sometimes we do better and sometimes not.”

“Weanlings are creep-fed a few weeks before weaning on a mix of beef nuts and rolled barley and are then sold.”

“The aim is for the cow and grass to put most of the weight on the weanling, with lighter weanlings creep-fed for a longer period.”

They have a strict culling policy and sell cows with poor calving ability, a lack of milk, or poor fertility to Athenry Mart.

In addition, they sell lambs in the same mart in early summer with a target weight of 44kgs.

Grassland management

They manage their grassland in a paddock-based system using three groups, autumn-calvers, spring-calvers and male progeny off their dams.

They split up fields using electric fences and allocate a week’s supply of fresh grass each time to reduce the farm workload during the week.

On the farm, they use ewes to mop up paddocks after cattle, which in their experience, works “extremely well” and helps with the farm’s soil fertility.

Looking ahead, they plan to introduce a reseeding programme on the farm within the next two years to grow more grass.

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Plans and the future of suckler farming

To succeed in pedigree cattle breeding, the Irish Limousin Cattle Society members believe it is “essential” to know your customer needs and breed what they require.

“My advice  to a young pedigree cattle breeder starting out is to have a clear picture of the breeding you want and buy the best breeding stock you can afford.”

They plan to continue with current cow numbers, focus on the herd’s fertility, undertake ET work, and place an increased “emphasis” on soil fertility, which they hope, as a result, will grow grass at “minimal” costs.

“I would say the future of the suckler farmer is based on quality, not quantity.”

“In my opinion; honestly, it will be interesting to see where the suckler cow ends up over the next five to ten years.”

“In my view, the suckler cow is an important part of the rural economy, and it helps support many local businesses,” the Limousin breeder concluded.

To share your story like this suckler farmer, email Catherina Cunnane, editor of That’s Farming, – [email protected]

See more suckler farming articles

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