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‘The future of small suckler farmers is bleak’

Niamh McMahon farms part-time whilst studying international business at Maynooth University.

The 21-year-old intends to combine her farming roots with her degree with a view to carving out a career in the agri-business sector.

The Lattagloghan, Ballyjamesduff, Co. Cavan native grew up on Drumlatt Farm which is home to a small suckler herd and a weanling-to-beef enterprise.

“Farming has always been a tradition in both my father and mother’s families back through the years,” she explained to Catherina Cunnane, editor of That’s Farming.

“Our family farm that we live on was bought by my parents 25 years ago.” 

Weanling-to-beef system

“Our main enterprise is a weanling-to-beef system and so we buy in 90% of our stock. We keep many breeds on our farm from Charolais to Angus – we pick up whatever is value at the time.”

They aim to buy in all weanlings at 250kgs+ to ensure they are ready for slaughter under 24 months and prefer to purchase cattle from private farms to eliminate any risk of disease.

“This year, we are running a trial where we have bought in a large number of calves from 7 weeks on.”

“We finished rearing them and in time they will be added to the weanling-to-beef system. So far, we are satisfied with their progress. We are interested to see what the cost difference will be.”

Suckler enterprise

“We only keep a few sucklers every year which their offspring make up the other 10% of our stock which go for this system. We usually only keep Limousin suckler cows.”

The family have placed their faith in the Limousin breed due to its strong maternal traits whilst not compromising the production of well-conformed progeny.

Their current suckler herd size enables the Cavan natives to AI all their breeding females, which enables them to tap into a wide gene pool.  

“We generally aim to calve down in February as any early calf is always heavier by year-end keeping on track with our weanling-to-beef system. Another reason we try to calve down early is because disease is at its lowest.”

“We use PRID Deltas in all our cows to ensure compact calving is achieved. By achieving compact calving, it allows us to wean all the calves together which leaves it easier for them to enter the weanling-to-beef system.”

“We aim to keep large cows to avoid any calving difficulty. We always choose docile replacements to ensure the safety of the farmer is the utmost priority.”

All progeny remain on-farm to enter their weanling-to-beef system. They only keep replacement heifers if cows have been earmarked for culling, otherwise, they also form part of the beef system.

Having a deep understanding of the breeding elements would probably be the key element when running a suckler enterprise to ensure quality progeny is produced, Niamh said.

“Keeping good quality cows would be another aspect as it costs the same to maintain a good quality cow as a bad quality cow.” the student added. 


Looking ahead, the McMahon’s future plans revolve around increasing the number of cattle farmed under their weanling-to-beef system. They also hope to expand and upgrade some of the facilities on-farm.

“The future of small suckler farmers is bleak as the gross profit margin per cow is too low to sustain and make a profit.”

“Farmers do not get paid sufficiently as when cattle are slaughtered in the factory the margin is too small between the good-quality animal and the poor-quality animal.”


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