Based in Cornafean, Co. Cavan, Herbie Griffith is a passionate part-time suckler farmer who is growing an enterprise that involves sourcing and selling E- and U-grade in-calf heifers.

Trading under the prefix ‘Herbie’s Heifers’, the Cavan farmer is continually growing a customer base for his sales, which take place twice annually.

Agriland paid a visit to view Herbie’s Heifers in advance of his next in-calf heifer sale which will take place at GVM Carrigallen Mart in Co. Leitrim on Monday, January 23.

Herbie cut his teeth in trading from his other business which specialises in the sale of tractors and farm machinery and he is now in his sixth year of hosting in-calf heifer sales.

His passion for producing quality E- and U-grade suckler progeny is evident on arrival to the yard, with cattle pens all filled with top-end continental heifer weanlings.

Herbie said the best of these will be selected for breeding and will appear in his future sales.

He explained that the key to the success of his heifer sales is “supplying farmers with functional heifers that possess good shape, length and stature”.

He added that the heifer must also be “fit to produce enough milk to do a good job rearing her calf”.

“There’s nothing nicer than a good, powerful cow with plenty of milk out in the field and a nice calf along side her,” he said.

“If you seen a nice cow and calf in a field when you’re going the road, you’d nearly stop to take a look.”

Herbie admitted he has a preferred cow type: Belgian Blue-cross Limousin. “They tick all the boxes for me,” he said.

Herbie also keeps a herd of his own suckler cows. The bull calves are sold as weanlings at the mart and the best of the heifers are kept for breeding. He also purchases weanling heifers and breeds the best of these for his special sales.

“Some of the heifers in the sale I breed myself and some of them are bought in marts around the country. I would buy a lot of west-of-Ireland heifers,” he said.

“My heifers seem to be lucky for the farmers who buy them,” Herbie continued.

“There’s return customers who come back every year as well as new farmers who buy heifers off me. I have sold heifers to farmers all over the country, both north and south.”

Commenting on how he selects the heifers for the sale, Herbie said: “You generally know from the breeding if the heifer will have milk or not. I have to be selective in the heifer I put in the sale. I often travel to a lot of marts before I find a suitable heifer for the job.”

“As a rule, the Belgian Blue-cross Limousin heifers tend to have lots of milk to rear a calf.”

Herbie breeds all his heifers to a mix of artificial insemination (AI), a Limousin stockbull and a hybrid bull. The hybrid bull is 50% Limousin and 50% Belgian Blue.

The heifers in the spring sale have a range of calving dates from January to April but most are due to calve in February and March.

Commenting on the prospects for the progeny from these heifers, Herbie said: “A lot of the female calves from these heifers are kept by farmers for breeding.”

“Some farmers show them and sell them and they tend to do very well in commercial show rings. I often purchase back the weanling heifers from some of my own stock that I’d have sold in the past,” he added.

“You get well rewarded when selling the calf. My own Limousin bull weanlings are sold in September. They averaged 410-420kg in weight and averaged €1,520 or €3.62/kg on price average.”

Commenting on the popularity of commercial sucklers, Herbie said: “There seems to be a lot of young people getting involved in showing and breeding commercial cattle which is great to see.”

Suckler housing and feed

The heifers for the sale are fed round-bale silage on a slatted feeding area. They all have access to a straw-bedded lie back too.

Some of the heifers have access to an out-wintering pad which is located behind the straw-bedded area.

Herbie said that on dry days the heifers spend all their time lying out on the pad which is covered in wood chip and added that the area provides “space for the heifers to get a bit of exercise in advance of calving”.

Herbie is optimistic for the future of the suckler sector but said farmers should be “aiming to produce the top-end weanlings if they want to secure a premium price for their weanlings”.

“If you’re breeding cattle, you have to be producing the top-end weanlings to get paid for them. It’s not simple and there’s a lot of work in it I know but it can be rewarding,” he said.

A catalog to view the 33 heifers on offer in Herbie Griffith’s upcoming sale is available on the Herbie’s Heifers Facebook page.