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Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnane hails from a sixth-generation drystock and specialised pedigree suckler enterprise in Co. Mayo. She currently holds the positions of editor and general manager at That's Farming, having joined the firm during its start-up phase in 2015.
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Martin O’Connor’s sale returns to Elphin after notching up to €9k last year

On the back of last year’s record-breaking success, Martin O’Connor’s annual in-calf heifer sale returns to Elphin Mart next Friday evening (November 5th, 2021).

The sale, which is a hotly anticipated event in suckler farmers’ calendars for over fifteen years, last year, set what is believed to be a new price record for a commercial in-calf heifer at auction.

Leading the charge at €9,000 at his 2020 sale, which was online-only due to Covid-19 restrictions, was a 33-month-old Glen Leon daughter, a Charolais-cross-Simmental, in-calf to AI Simmental bull, Popes Grandlam 15 (sexed semen).

Among this year’s 50 entries, is her half-sister, and as the Roscommon man put it himself, “who knows what might happen?”

A selection of Simmental-cross-Charolais, Belgian-Blue-cross-Limousins, Limousin-cross-Simmentals, and Charolais-cross-Limousins will come under the hammer at 7 pm this year’s sale.

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Lot 23A: LM/BBX – in-calf to Loyal – Time up 29 Dec 2021 – Image: Tricia Kennedy

Martin O’Connor’s annual sale 

The specialist in-calf heifer sale host told That’s Farming editor, Catherina Cunnane:

“Heifers are export-tested and scanned in-calf to renowned easy-calving Limousin AI bulls, including Elderberry Galahad – EBY, Loyal, Lodge Hamlet and Tweedale Lennox.”

“I am in constant contact with all of Ireland’s leading AI stations to seek feedback from technicians on top bulls and progeny on the ground.”

“Most heifers are calving in November/December 2021. We used sexed semen and are very happy with the conception rates. Overall, between sexed and conventional semen, 85% of heifers have been scanned carrying heifer calves.”

“Over the last while back, there has been a remarkable trade for weanling heifers, let them be 250kgs or 350kgs. That is what prompted us to use a lot of sexed semen and also to allow in-calf heifers purchasers to recoup some of their money back within twelve months.”

“Scanning heifers is very important because you must leave no stone unturned when you are in this game with animals at the high end of the scale price-wise.”

“You have to be sure of what you are selling, and purchasers need to know what they are buying. You must have everything 100%.”

Sourcing policy

O’Connor hand-picks high-end quality heifers for his annual sale from farms directly and at various livestock marts.

“We found that 2020 was the easiest year to source heifers, mainly because the Winter Fair in Carrick-on-Shannon could not go ahead.”

“That annual event usually attracts a good supply of top-quality breeding heifers. Some of the heifers I bought were earmarked for there. I had an opportunity to buy these privately and availed of it.”

As a result, he sourced over 60% of heifers for this year’s sale directly from farms, with the remainder in marts.

O’Connor focuses on:

  • Docility as the first and foremost trait;
  • Good pelvic conformation for calving ability;
  • Maternal traits with an ability to produce a calf every 365-370 days and rear subsequent progeny on her own;
  • Power and style: 600kgs+, U or U+ grade.
Martin O’Connor’s annual sale 2021: 50 continental in-calf heifers for sale at Elphin Mart on Friday, November 5th, 2021 at 7 pm.
32A – in-calf to Angus bull – Due 1st Feb 2022
Herd health and repeat custom

Herd health is of “utmost importance”,  with all heifers vaccinated for BVD and Lepto.

They have all tested negative for Neospora, which he explained will be of “particular interest to farms in Northern Ireland and overseas”.

The sale draws repeat customers from across the country and the UK and is going from strength to strength year on year.

“Each year, the price gap between what I would describe as the top calves and those that are two steps back grows even more. I think that this is the way it should be; that top calves are making top money.”

“I have received reports from people who bought off me last year, with weanling heifers off my heifers making €1,500-€2,500.”

“That instils confidence in those farmers and shows me that I am doing something right. This, coupled with a high repeat customer rate, speaks volumes. If they were not happy, they would not be back.”

O’Connor reported that average prices at his annual sale have increased year on year. The average levelled at €2,500 in 2019 and settled at €3,100 in 2020.

“This just goes to show you that there are farmers out there to buy good-quality stock.”

Martin O’Connor’s annual sale 2021: 50 continental in-calf heifers for sale at Elphin Mart on Friday, November 5th, 2021 at 7 pm.
Lot 34A: BB/BAX – in-calf to Lodge Hamlet – Time up 05 Jan 2022 – Image: Tricia Kennedy

“People have said to me over the years: ‘Martin, your heifers are too good’, but my answer to this is that ‘your cows can never be too good.’ You cannot expect the bull to do everything for you; you must have good cows.”

“Your heifer/cow is your foundation stock. I find the heifers I breed from, mostly U grades and some U+s, that by using the best possible easy-calving Limousin bull you can get, you will still produce a top-quality U grade calf.”

“Even going down the road as a second or third-calver, you do not have to go for this seriously muscled bull to produce a superior calf from these females.”

“You can continue to use your easy-calving AI bull or stockbull to get that top-quality calf. On the other hand, if you go for a lesser R- or O grade heifer, you have to use a very strong-muscled bull to get that grade of a calf, and that is where hard calving can come in.”

“The hard calving factor does not come in with my heifers because the heifers I have are producing top-quality calves from easy-calving bulls,” he concluded.

Martin O’Connor’s annual sale 2021: 50 continental in-calf heifers for sale at Elphin Mart on Friday, November 5th, 2021 at 7 pm.
29B – in-calf to EBY – Time up 20 Dec 2021 – Image: Tricia Kennedy

You can view heifers in the mart from 2 pm in line with strict Covid-19 protocols – social-distancing, wearing of face-masks/face-coverings and use of hand sanitiser.

Unlike last year, ringside bidding is permitted. Covid-19 protocols apply.

Potential purchasers – who wish to bid online – are urged to register on Mart Bids and contact Elphin Mart on 071-9035061 to approve their application.

Martin will accommodate on-farm viewings by appointment only – Contact him on 0872882858.

See an online catalogue.

Other reading:

  • In our Suckler Focus segment, we spoke to Jack Cronin about Martin O’Connor’s annual in-calf heifer sale and his success as a show exhibitor and stock judge. Read this article.
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