Noel O’Neill began farming a sheep and suckler enterprise in his own right in 2003.
The Tinahely, Co. Wicklow native is an electrician by trade and runs the farm with his wife, Mairead, and children, Hannah, and Conor.
“My grandfather was a suckler and sheep farmer. I spent a lot of summers as a child helping him with the sheep. This is what got me interested in farming, and I decided at a young age that I would have my own farm someday.” he told That’s Farming.
Sowing the seed
“In 2003, I purchased 20-acres of land, and I got my own herd number. I started with two crossbred cows and 60-70 crossbred sheep.”
After three years, he decided it would be more beneficial to farm pedigree livestock, given the size of his holding.
He purchased more land which paved the way for expansion on the suckler farming front.
O’Neill’s pedigree Limousin herd was established with the purchase of two cows in 2007, and that is when he became an Irish Limousin Cattle Society member.
One of these foundation females, Deerwalk April Rose, was a daughter of Epson. She produced replacement females for the herd, improving fertility, milk, and docility. Today, a daughter and granddaughter remain in the herd and are producers of “high quality, quiet calves”.
Ballymaghroe Livestock now consists of eleven suckler pairs and three heifers, all of which are pedigree Limousins. Noel is a member of BEEP-S, BDGP, Limo Leader with full status since 2019 and is BVD accredited.
“For me, Limousin was an easy decision when deciding which breed to opt for. When I farmed crossbred cows, Limousin was always my first choice when choosing AI bulls.”
“I believe they had the best traits for farmers, easy calving, good growth rate, and produce quality stock. Docility is the number one trait that I look for in a cow. They must have good legs and plenty of milk.”
The herd uses 100% AI, and calving takes place from July to December. “My reason for this, you have bulls that are mature enough to go with cows in the spring, when farmers are looking for them.”
Key to success
Bulls are sold for breeding from 16-19 months, while females are retained as replacements, and others are sold privately from the farm or at the mart.
“Replacement heifers are not put in-calf until they are 30 months. At 30 months, the heifer is more developed and usually larger. I think 24 months is too young and leaves it harder to get them back in-calf.”
“Any bull or cow showing temperament issues are culled for safety reasons. The aim is always to get one calf per cow, a year. It is not always possible at times when you operate a 100% AI system. I am always trying to improve in this area.”
When asked what the key elements to running a successful suckler operation are, he said: “You need to know your cows well, and correct any faults by breeding them to a bull that will correct these.”
“The biggest challenge for us was to get cows up to 4 and 5-star ratings. When we started, our calves were only 2 and 3 stars, but by using the right AI bulls, we are now producing 5-star progeny.”
The O’Neill’s Limousins have yet to make their debut appearance on the show circuit; however, the family have placed with ram lambs at Tinahely Agricultural Show.
Furthermore, the 40-acre holding is also home to a flock of 30 pedigree Charollais breeding ewes. They have selected the breed for ease of lambing and lamb vigour at birth.
“They cross well with any breed, to produce good quality lambs,” explained Noel, a Charollais Sheep Society member since 2007.
The family imported three pedigree Charollais stock rams from France. Lambing commences on January 1st each year, with ewes sponged to achieve this.
“Superior ewe lambs are kept as replacements, while the best ram lambs are sold for breeding, and the rest are slaughtered.”
“My son, Conor, saved his pocket/birthday money and recently purchased two Texel ewe lambs. I think this is a great way for kids to gain more of an understanding of farming and how it works.”
Looking ahead, Noel hopes to purchase more land in the future and increase his herd to fifteen cows and his flock to fifty pedigree Charollais ewes.
“I want to focus on my calving period, and hopefully shorten this. Also, I would like to improve grass quality.”
“In my opinion, I feel the sheep farmer is always overlooked when it comes to schemes. The Sheep Welfare Scheme at present offers €10 per sheep, which barely covers the cost of a bag of meal.”
“There should be a better scheme for sheep to show commitment to sheep farmers. Lambs in Ireland are sold off grass and should be marketed in that way.”
“I would like to see more live export of lambs to keep the pressure on factories, to offer a better price to the farmer,” Noel concluded.
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