In this week’s Suckler Focus, That’s Farming, speaks to pedigree Charolais breeder, Rory Cullen of the Glera herd, about selective breeding, ET work, securing a bull in AI, grassland management, agricultural shows, and his future outlook.
Rory Cullen is a first-generation farmer, having begun his journey in 2001 with a plot of rented ground and commercial sucklers.
The 46-year-old, who works as a maintenance technician in a local factory, switched to breeding pedigree Charolais in 2011 when he settled in Killoe, County Longford.
He founded his growing herd in 2010 with the purchases of Hillcrest Chloe and Maerdy Alkali, favouring the breed for its “marketability; its suitability to all beef systems”.
The proprietor of the 8-cow Glera Charolais herd aims to maximise its potential by focusing on grassland management, ET work and 100% AI breeding.
“I strive to have a long, powerful cow with a wide muzzle, good pelvis to calf, good structural traits and functionality. They must be from a fertile breeding line and be capable of rearing/suckling their own calf. For me, all, these traits go hand in hand.” the 16-acre farmer told That’s Farming.
“Extra length, power and style will always stand out for. We generally calf heifers from 27 and 30 months. That extra bit of power helps with pelvic width, where 5mm can be the difference in successful calving and not.”
“I have grown the herd through a strict culling policy based on the value of progeny at sales, fertility and ability to rear their own calf, which, for me, go hand-in-hand). Also, a good temperament is imperative as my wife Sarah and I have two children, Saoirse and Eabha.”
“We generally operate a late summer/autumn calving system. It utilises the ability of our bulls to grow naturally on a grass diet before going onto feed in preparation for sale.”
Rory has deployed ET to increase his herd’s size and quality, with Glera Indigo leading the charge. Currently, he is flushing Glera Ikea and hopes Glera Janice will follow in hot pursuit when she calves down.
“We are currently in the process of flushing our best cows to proven cow-producing bulls to try and ensure the continuation of good bloodlines we have on the farm. Also, we follow the belief: get the cows right, and the bulls will follow.”
“We currently have a young heifer coming on here out of the fabulous cow Indigo, who we lost unfortunately at Chrismas. Glera Rhianna is showing all the indications of being a really special animal. However, who knows until she puts a calf on the ground, but we are hopeful.”
Agricultural shows and a bull in AI
Rory exhibits some of his cattle at agricultural shows, supporting local events, including Longford, Mullingar, Cloone and Mohill, with success.
“We have been fortunate enough to win club championships with a couple of our young cattle, namely Glera Nikita, female Midland and Western Club Calf Champion 2017.”
“Furthermore, Glera Oran was North Eastern Club reserve champion 2019. We were also privileged to have the intermediate champion and reserve at the Christmas Cracker sale in 2019. Progressive Genetics subsequently purchased Glera Oran, and a top suckler farmer in Northern Ireland acquired Glera Oneshot.
“In a short time, we have managed to improve the type and pedigrees of our cows to enable us to produce stock that can stand alongside and compete with the best. Our ambition is to continue with the genetic improvement of our herd and to make animals available for sale to others to do the same.”
“We would feel that Glera Oran currently available from NCBC can do this because as well as being a very good bull, his dam is a very consistent breeder and a wonderful milking cow.”
“We sell breeding stock both at home and at society sales when available. Also, we would have a selection of embryos off our top cows available for sale. I place a total focus on quality at all times,” the pedigree Charolais breeder added.
Grassland and addressing soil issues
With a strong emphasis on superior genetics, he places an equal focus on grassland management, having reseeded the farm in rotation in reecnt years.
The pedigree Charolais breeder commented that “this work is ongoing as we believe the payback could be as good as 3 to 1”.
He also operates a strip grazing system with the aim of keeping a fresh square of grass under stock at all times. “If you want to lose weight, you keep walking or running. We feed no meal at prime grass time from mid-March to mid-July.”
“The herd is not exactly achieving its one calf per cow per year target due to varying factors cows taken out for flushing my shift patterns and maybe not spotting a cow when she is in heat. We have high molybdenum on the farm here. We have found that any time we have spread lime, here we find it impossible to get cows in-calf at grass as a result.”
“To note, we would be fairly ruthless in terms of culling females whose progeny do not meet our targets.”
He is in the process of identifying a solution for this issue and is using Sobac for the first this year after researching its values. He is hopeful that it will address the farm’s molybdenum and associated pH issues.
“We also hope that it will lead to a better root structure of the grass plant, helping to reduce poaching and, in doing so, improving grass utilisation.”
Being open to change
According to Rory, the key elements of running a successful suckler operation are ruthless culling, monitoring costs, exploiting grass’ potential, and always being willing to sell stock because “that is the name of the game”.
“We are certainly getting there, quality-wise, but I think, but there is always room for improvement. We have managed to put together a couple of super breeding cows in one batch. Our aim is to extend and improve them with another generation of females.”
“There will always be a market for top suckler stock, without a doubt. In any business, the market dictates; sometimes, we lose track of that. If beef is plentiful, the market does not have to pay for it. It can be foolish to keep doing the same thing at a loss and expect a different result.”
“Farmers can increase profitability by cutting costs inside the farm gate, looking for niche markets and using the best genetics available to achieve your goal.”
“We find the best animals we produce on the farm here consume the least as their feed to performance ratios are super. Embrace new techniques, information, and technology that makes sense to you and for your farm, and you will not go far wrong. To be prosperous in the future, look back on the lessons of the past.”