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Communion money calves prove to be a wise investment for Offaly farmer

Offaly farmer, Clement King, has scooped the Irish Hereford Prime Farmer of the Year Award 2021.

The breed was a matter of divine intervention for the farmer, whose son purchased the first Hereford-cross calves on the farm with his Holy Communion money.

Clement quickly saw they were making as much money as continental calves he had at the time.

“I was sizing up my son’s calves and realised they were doing just as good if not better than mine,” Clement laughs.

Irish Hereford Prime Farmer

Farming with his wife, Deidre, and two sons, Peter and Eoin, who are now in their teens, Clement has gradually pulled back from sucklers and transitioned to a 100% calf-to-beef system.

He sends finished animals to ABP Nenagh, and Clement feels that the relationship he has established with Michael Cleary, procurement officer with Hereford Prime and the team there has been “invaluable”.

He credits Irish Hereford Prime’s support and advice with helping him to change system and keep his farm economically sustainable.

“Michael calls out to me here on the farm and liaises with me, and you get great feedback,” Clement says.

He believes the support and network it creates helps his farm business to thrive, and he feels that it has been “key” to his success.

According to organisers, judges selected Clement for the title because of his “excellent” management of both his farm and his livestock.

“Keeping a close eye on cattle in the finishing period allows farmers like Clement, to maximise the number of cattle that will qualify for bonus,” Michael explained.

“This helps our producer group to supply a very consistent product to the end customer.”

“Clement is achieving an impressive weight for age with his cattle and showcases best practice methods in bringing Herefords from farm to fork through excellent use of his grassland and on-farm management.”

Why Hereford?

Hailing from a dairy farm originally, Clement struck out on his own over 30 years ago and bred continental suckler cattle.

However, the temperament and management of Herefords and their easy finishing ability resulted in a switch to the breed.

“Their temperament is good, and so were their kill-outs; I was able to get weight up on them,” Clement says.

He keeps the bulk of the cattle housed for one winter on slats with a lie back area, ensuring they get good quality silage and ration. Once he turns them out to grass, he looks to sell some surplus stock.

Currently, the 2021 Irish Hereford Prime Farmer of the Year Award winner finishes 20 heifers a year and a handful of steers.

However, he hopes to increase this number as he has fully exited the suckler side of farming to focus on calf-to-beef.

“I am finishing the heifers at 18 months. They are killing out at roughly 280kg and usually grading O= or O+, which qualifies them for the Irish Hereford Prime bonus,” he says.

Clement also weighs animals regularly throughout the summer and the winter months and keeps track of their average daily gain (ADG).

He finds this an important tool for monitoring animals’ progress.

“The finishing cattle only came in off grass in October, and I have them on a high-quality maize mix.”

“I weighed them there at the weekend, and I am very happy with how they are doing. There are animals there that are making 1.7kg to 2kg ADG,” Clement says.

Grassland management

Clement’s farm is made up of both owned and rented ground, with an emphasis on good grassland management.

“Over the last few years, I’ve reseeded the whole farm, and a high level of clover has gone into the farm,” Clement says.

“I grass measure, and I believe it’s key in terms of good management, but I do find that the new grasses really work well for me also.”

Buying 75 Hereford-cross calves

Clement buys 75 Hereford-cross calves, both bulls and heifers, every year, as well as keeping steers and heifers for both sale and finishing.

He says that with the numbers he has, reseeding has been “vital”.

However, he advises farmers that establishing clover can be tricky without good management.

He buys calves once a year in spring and sources them from three dairy farmers.

He says a good relationship with the farmer you buy calves from is “vital”, and once calves arrive on his farm, he vaccinates them.

Vaccination programme and early calf management

He finds that the vaccination programme covering areas such as pneumonia in calves is “key to knocking any future health problems on the head”.

Therefore, he thinks all farmers should consider the advantages of rolling one out on their own farms.

This ensures that high calf health and welfare are maintained and that animals get as few knockbacks as possible from disease or other issues.

Clement also likes that he can see that calves come from what he calls “good British Friesian-type” cows, which he believes gives a better Hereford-cross animal.

Furthermore, he attaches “huge” importance to early calf management, which he feels is “vital” to ensure the quality of a finished animal.

Off-farm employment and GAA  

Family plays an important role on the farm, and even though both of Clement’s sons are involved in Offaly GAA, they still find the time to help out, which is something he appreciates.

“I have an off-farm job with Liffey Mills, and I would come home in the evening, and the lads would have the calves fed before heading off to hurling training. It’s great to see the interest that they have,”

Clement says while adding that the GAA is part of the lifeblood of the family and something they all “love” to be part of in their spare time.

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