That’s Farming editor, Catherina Cunnane, in conversation with Robert Porter (41) of Keenagh Fold, Malin Head, Co Donegal, which could be the country’s most northerly 100% pedigree Highland cattle fold, in this week’s Farmer Focus.
“I currently farm part-time and work in construction in Dublin, where I also have my own drylining company.
My father, Maurice, looks after the farm, and when I am home, I work alongside him, while my sister, Lynda, helps out during lambing and calving season.
We come from a farming background, and my grandfather, Robert, passed the farm onto my father.
On my own enterprise, I have 10 mixed-breed commercial breeding females and 5 pedigree Highland cows, which I farm under the Keenagh prefix registered with the Scottish Highland Society, across 40-acres of ground.
I bought in 5 Highland cows from Scotland two years ago.
I made the decision to buy Highlands for their ability to calf easily, and they can withstand the harsh Malin Head weather; they are also great mothers.
There is a very high demand for Highland heifers, and I have sold two this year. A fully registered Highland heifer would be worth €2,000. Readers must note the new rules have made importing them very expensive with vet fees and quarantine.
I bought a Highland bull in Belfast this year, and I am over the moon with him as he has bred satisfactory progeny.
We breed commercial cows to a Limousin bull, and they are currently calving, while this year’s crop of Highland calves will arrive in two months.
While I have only begun breeding Highlands, I understand that I may possibly be the first Irish Highland breeding fold to register pedigree twins with the Scottish Highland Society.
The Highland cow would be my top choice. However, the only problem I see, from my experience, with them is that bull calves can be difficult to shift.
We made the decision to fatten any bull calves from now on and sell them to the factory.
I sell all my calves straight off the cow, and this keeps my costs down as no feeding is required; our target is to have one calf, per cow, per year.
I will not be keeping any Highland heifers as they will not go to bull until they are three years of age. For me, personally, that is too long to see a return and plus, we would have to replace our stock bull too.
The key elements of successful suckler farming is, where possible, keeping costs down and hard work. I have always said you get out of the farm what you put in.
I plan to expand my Highland fold and reduce my commercial herd size through a gradual phase-out of the latter to transition to a 100% pedigree registered Highland breeding operation.
Unfortunately, the outlook for the small suckler farmer does not look good, in my view. They are making us jump through more and more hoops each year.
The price of beef does not equal production price increases over the past couple of years.
It appears, from what I can see, that suckler farmers are not wanted in the west of Ireland anymore.
It is not easy working in Dublin and then working on the farm when home. I have three small girls, so it is very hard to make time for everything.
Thankfully, I have a very understanding wife; Eibhlin, understands as she is from a farming background herself.
I try and keep Sundays free for the family, but during the winter months and lambing and calving season, it is difficult as we are so busy on-farm.
My girls are aged 4, 6 and 8, so sometimes, I just bring them with me as I want them to have an interest in farming.”
Photos of Highland cattle:
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