In this week’s Suckler Focus, That’s Farming, speaks to Sheehils Farm. Megan Searson discusses her plans to pursue her interest in agriculture, selling a Belgian Blue bull for €9,200 and stock judging.
Megan Searson (18) from Roscrea, County Tipperary farms a 200-acre dairy and beef herd with her father, John, mother, Ann, brother, Jack, and sister Leanne.
The enterprise consists of 80 British Friesian dairy cows, 20 pedigree Charolais females, 10 pedigree Belgian Blue and 10 Limousin cows.
The Searsons established the Sheehills Charolais herd by purchasing Kivilcorris Oprah (sired by Indurain (IDU) 23 years ago from the Kivilcorris Charolais herd.
The family invested in further females from Cottage Charolais and at other dispersal sales.
“Farming has been a family tradition of breeding pedigree Charolais cattle since my father was younger,” Megan Searson told That’s Farming.
“My father tries to keep all of us happy. I am into Charolais cattle; my sister is into Belgian Blues, and my brother is interested in breeding Limousin cattle and has a small flock of pedigree Charollais sheep.”
“I am completing my Leaving Certificate this year. I hope to study agricultural science at NUIG, have a career in agriculture and hopefully, someday, take over the farm.”
“Furthermore, I always had a love for farming, and ever since I was younger, I remember being out on the farm. I have been showing livestock from a young age.”
Megan likes a cow that is docile, has good conformation, is easy calving and has “good” milk production figures.
“In my view, it is easy to sell a good-quality Charolais bull compared to other breeds where it could be that bit harder.”
Megan and her family carry out ET work on their pedigree herd and insert embryos into recipients on the same day.
The family selects two heifers from each breed for the procedure, which Richard Duff from Champion Embryos completes.
Their latest scanning results shows 75% conception rates in the animals bred.
The herd’s breeding programme for Charolais sires includes Goldstar Echo (GHX) and Clenagh Lyle (CH4634).
“Our flushing yields average between seven or eight embryos per cow. It is important cows have a good diet in the run-up to ET work because they will have a better chance of producing more eggs.”
“Also, it is important to have the recipients on a strict high-energy, low protein diet which will result in increased conception rates.”
The family calf their recipients in September to pave way for the workload involved with calving their spring-calving dairy herd.
According to Megan, the family undertakes up to eight C-sections on their Belgian Blue and Charolais recipients during the calving season annually.
Heifers and bulls
The Searsons sell their bulls on-farm or at society sales from 15-months-old.
The family retain five Charolais heifers and some of their Limousin and Belgian Blue breeding females. They offer a supply of bulls and heifers on-farm to the market all-year-round.
“We usually show the best of each breed, and then sell them in the autumn sales.”
“Our majority of sales are from repeat customers. Many of them are from Ireland and the UK, but it is usually, the same customers that come back to buy our bulls.”
“There was an Irish Belgian Blue Society sale a few years ago, and we had a bull, Sheehills Inspiration, in it. We won the all-Ireland champion title, and he sold for €9,200.”
The family send their cull cows to Roscrea Mart or a local factory.
Grass measuring and the herd’s achievements
Megan and her family measure their grass to make more effective grassland management and grazing decisions.
“Grassland management is important on the farm, and for us to be able to balance it in both the dairy and pedigree herd.”
The family placed third and fourth with bulls at the Irish Charolais Cattle Society National Charolais Calf Show in 2021.
In addition, Sheehils Farm scooped the reserve intermediate champion title in December 2021 for Sheehills Rylee at the Irish Charolais Cattle Society Christmas cracker at Elphin Mart.
“In 2016, I won young handler of the year at Tullamore Show in the Charolais section and at the Irish Charolais Cattle Society National Charolais calf show 2021 in Elphin Mart in the senior section.”
“It is great to be involved in showing and to get to know people throughout the country. I also had the honour of judging at agricultural shows, which I enjoyed very much, especially in the young handler section.”
In Megan’s eyes, success in pedigree breeding lies within your choice of dam and sire.
“My father and I attend many society sales and see what bulls are working for other breeders, and this gives us an insight for our sire selection.”
“A good bull is easy to pick out, and at the end of the day, it is not all about €uro stars. A lot of research has gone into choosing a bull for our future calves that we breed for the following year.”
The family attended several agricultural shows before the Covid-19 pandemic, including Rathdowney, Tullamore, Tinahely, Cappamore, and Clonaslee.
“It is good promotion to show calves and a good opportunity for customers as they get to see our stock as well as bringing farm promotion.”
“Also, it is a good way to meet people and talk to other farmers and see what they are doing.”
Women in agriculture
Commenting as a women in a male-dominated agricultural sector, Megan said, “it is not easy for women and the way they are treated, occasionally”.
“I have had many situations where I was treated differently because I am a woman. However, I think the important thing for women is the way we react to these situations rather than ignore them.”
“Women are as capable as men to farm if not even more capable, and I think it is important that all women know that.”
“A lot of women feel discriminated against in the farming community, but the situation is changing, and it is slowly becoming an more equal playing field.”
Megan and her family intend to continue completing ET work and sell “good-quality stock” to farmers.
However, she noted dairy farming is the family’s main priority and “pedigree breeding is a hobby”.
“A lot of the challenges are involved when maintaining your good herd. It is important not to have too many cows so that you can focus on quality more so than anything.”
“In my opinion, I do not see any reason for a cut to the national herd. We are selling our produce on world markets now, and there is a worldwide demand for our produce.”
“Farming is a major export industry to the economy, and Ireland statistically has a lower stocking density than many other countries in the world.”
“The world’s population is rising, and at the end of the day, everyone needs to be fed, and yes, agriculture can continue to help improve the environment by more research by using new technologies, eco-friendly schemes and avoiding pollution,” she concluded.
To share your story like Sheehils Farm, email Catherina Cunnane, editor of That’s Farming, – email@example.com
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