In this week’s Suckler Focus, That’s Farming, speaks to Ivan Lynn of Hillside Commercials. He discusses moving from dairy-bred females to a more muscled cow-type, focusing on colour, calving heifers at 24-32 months, and why he does not bring cattle through to slaughter.
At a time when many suckler farmers are reducing cow numbers, Ivan Lynn is doing the opposite.
The owner of Hillside Commercials, Armoy in Co Antrim intends to push cow numbers to the 100 mark by 2024.
He farms a 140-acre mixed enterprise, employing one full-time worker and sons: Conall (15), Daniel (12) and Liam (10).
Hillside Commercials Armoy, County Antrim, comprises 250 Blackface ewe lambs and 40 Limousin-cross-Belgian Blue cows, 20 Limousin-cross breeding females and 4 Limousin-Charolais-crosses.
The 1997 Greenmount Agricultural College graduate juggles the running of the mixed operation with a groundworks business, IJ Lynn and Sons Limited, focusing on civil engineering housing developments.
He told That’s Farming:
“I just had a passion for farming and started into cows twenty-five years ago. I kept building up the herd.”
“Years ago, we have Angus-type females out of Friesian cows for easy calving.”
In the last 8-10 years, he has ventured into more of a beef-bred muscular cow to breed quality commercial calves.
“The ones we have are that bit harder to calf because they have more extreme muscle. However, we are lucky our cows are extremely milky and producing good calves.”
“It costs a lot of money to keep a suckler cow every year. You need to be producing that top-quality show type calf to get the maximum out of the cow to try to make it pay.”
“I try to use a Limousin-cross-Charolais to get some colour through in calves. In some cases, you are lucky and get a heifer calf that will breed a bit of colour rather than just getting a black or red calf.”
“If you have a cow with a bit of colour in her, white or brown, there is a good chance that is going to come through in the calves.”
“With Limousin-Belgian Blue again, you can also get colour. She can be that bit more extreme when it comes to shape. Your Limousin can be that bit more stylish and more shapey.”
The farm runs three Limousin stock bulls – one of which is on stand-by if a bull becomes lame or infertile.
Two bulls run with the herd over 30 weeks, with Dr Dan Ryan overseeing scanning in early March and the beginning of June.
“Calves are on cows in batches of 15 and graze around fields. We graze and sow grass as we need it. We do two cuts of silage across 40-acres, and we bale everything.”
The farm uses 30% conventional AI with sires including Elderberry Galahad (EBY), Knockmoyle10 Loki (CH4159), Wilodge Joskins (LM2188) and Brooklands (F0959) from Dovea Genetics’ panel.
“We might look into sexed semen because we have a couple of fancy ones we are flushing.”
The Lynn’s herd calves from October to the end of March. In 2020, they assisted 30 cows and performed three C-sections, while 27 cows required no intervention.
“If you want a calf for showing, you will have to assist with their delivery. If they are calving easy, you are getting a very fine calf, but it may not be that top-quality show calf.”
“I would love to have them all calved in autumn ideally, but sometimes they slip back.”
“I would rather have an autumn-calver as you have a bigger calf to sell at the suck calf sale. We like to keep calving as compact as possible, but sometimes it is not easy.”
“Sometimes, cows slip back and do not go in-calf during their first or third cycle. Therefore, it is difficult to maintain a tight calving pattern.”
“It is difficult to calf 70 cows in two months. You would not keep them that tight together, so calving always ends up over 4-5 months. We use a calving camera.”
According to Ivan, the herd’s calving interval is between 380 and 385 days.
Calving heifers at 24-32-months-old
Heifers ranging from 650-680kg calve down between 24-32-months-old.
“If you go to a replacement heifer sale, it is whatever age the ones you are buying.”
“A lot of people selling them do not serve them according to age. They bull them according to size and weight.”
“A lot of them heifers are in and around 26-30 months before they calf. They are not put in-calf until they are the right size.”
Ivan sells 60-70 bull and heifers, weighing between 300-480kgs at Ballymena Livestock Market.
He will offer one of each sex at the upcoming Markethill Livestock Mart Christmas Cracker Show and Sale. These seven-months-old entries weigh between 350-380kgs.
“We bought in 12 heifers this year because we are upping our numbers.”
“However, on average, we buy 5-6 every year to cover old ones we are culling, operated on, or ones that we cannot get back in-calf.”
The heifer purchases came from renowned farmers, James Alexander, Gareth Currie and Olcan Laverty.
“Five or six years ago, we changed bulls, and for three years in a row, we kept about 25 heifers of our own.”
“We have started buying some coloured cows to try to get coloured calves. Hopefully, we get a bit of colour in them heifers as that is where the money is.”
“It has been a great year, and heifer calves are making big money. In 2020, our top price in Ballymena Livestock Market was a roan heifer at £1,850, and this year, stock reached £3,000.”
“Bullocks are up about £80/head, and in terms of heifers, it is just a guessing game. If they are suitable for breeding and have colour, people are mad for them; they could make any money.”
He plans to increase his suckler herd to 100-cows over the next three years and cut costs by investing in winter housing facilities and slurry storage.
“I am not interested in getting into finishing cattle. We want to sustain the number of cows we have. We do not have the land to be running calves over as stores or for finishing.”
“Furthermore, we would not have that much housing. That is why we sell all our calves at suck calf sales.”
He shared his view on the future of suckler farming.
“It is tight going. In my eyes, you need to be producing that top-end show-type calf to get your value out of the calf, out of the cow and get your cows back in-calf within the year.”
“I do not think reducing the national herd will make a wild lot of difference to the ozone layer. There are many more things in life producing more harmful gases to the ozone than cows.”
“I know there are plenty of people who have stopped eating meat, and a lot of these people are trying to put you off eating meat. Regardless, I think there is a good strong market for beef.”
“It all depends on politicians/government, what they decide to do and make law.”
“Farmers will have to keep fighting to be able to produce the beef. I think there is still a good strong market for beef in the future,” the owner of Hillside Commercials concluded.
To share your story like Hillside Commercials, email Catherina Cunnane, editor of That’s Farming, – firstname.lastname@example.org
See more suckler farming articles