Farming on the outskirts of Ballinagh, Co. Cavan, Philip Crowe is a pig farmer with a flock of pedigree ewes and a herd of pedigree Limousins.
The farm’s success is very much down to a family effort with Philip’s parents, Oliver and Margie, as well as his brother, Oliver, all helping out.
Philip’s wife, Gillian, and their three kids also have a keen interest in all aspects of the farm.
The pig enterprise on the farm involves a 180-sow integrated unit. As well as this, 60 ewes and 20 pedigree Limousin cows reside on the farm.
Titled the ‘Powerful Limousin Herd’, Philip, who is the chairperson of the north-east Limousin club and vice-president of the Irish Limousin Cattle Society, said the herd “is powerful both by name and by nature”.
Speaking to Agriland, the Cavan man explained how the herd came into existence and how its progressing.
“We have been breeding Limousins now for nearly 30 years. We started out with other cattle breeds but once we tried the Limousins, we never went back to anything else.”
Philips’ love for the breed comes naturally, he explained:
“They’re good, hardy cattle and rushes or heavy ground don’t stop them from thriving and going on well. They are a very functional breed.”
“We find them very fertile with good, hardy, healthy calves and plenty of demand for the progeny. They’re always in demand.”
The cattle-breeding programme on the farm is now solely based on artificial insemenation (AI), carried out by Philip himself.
But, he explained, the farm previously had a famous stock bull, Haltcliffe Dancer.
Philip explained that the traits he looks for in his herd’s progeny are becoming more diverse, and AI helps him to achieve this.
“Back 10 years ago, all I wanted in my calves was muscle, I didn’t care about anything else. But since I got more involved with the society and seen the direction the breed is going, I now see the need to focus on some of the maternal traits.
“Suckler farmers need a functional cow that will produce a good calf and have plenty of milk to feed it, and that’s why I’m putting more emphasis on these maternal traits also.”
The herd is very quiet, overall, and docility is a trait that Philip continually pays attention to.
Some of the big names in the herd:
For this year’s breeding, Philip used half french sires and half UK sires.
He noted that 10 years ago, it was all UK Limousins he was using: “I wouldn’t have let a French sire around the yard then.”
In 2020, Philip sold a bull to the National Cattle Breeding Centre (NCBC), Powerful Proper.
The bull is targeted at the dairy market and has short gestation and easy-calving figures and early reports from the bulls’ first calves are all affirming this.
Another bull from the herd, Powerful Irish, was sold to Scottish breeder Martin Irvine in 2014.
Powerful Irish has proved hugely successful in the UK.
The bull was a Haltcliffe Dancer son and carried both the NT and Q Myostatin muscle genes. This bull’s progeny has made headlines with daughters and granddaughters selling to £30,000, and sons setting breed-average records at bull sales in Stirling.
The Powerful Herd is one of few Irish herds to have sold a bull back to France.
In 2018, Neptune RR was a Sablier son out of a Sympa X Nenuphar dam Raffertys Irresistible. Neptune went on to qualify in the top 10% of French Limousin sires.
The herd is checked every morning and evening and while the AI breeding can be time consuming – especially when the cows are out on grass – Philip said: “We’re getting good results and I wouldn’t contemplate going back to a bull.”
Philip explained that the target market for his Limousins is primarily suckler and pedigree farmers but he breeds some short-gestation bulls suitable for the dairy-farmer market also.
Philip is also well-known among sheep breeders for his flock of pedigree ewes.
“I keep three different breeds of sheep: Rouge, Blue Texel and Dassenkop (Badger-Face Texel),” he said.
Philip has a keen interest in breeding pedigree ewes also and he does a bit of embryo-transfer work with his flock every year.
Lambing begins on February 1, and the pedigree ram lambs are sold to breeding flocks while the pedigree ewes are sold to supply pedigree breeders with breeding females.
The Blue Texel Society was set up in 2019 and Philip was one of the founding members.
“There are over 100 members now,” he noted.
With the Irish pig sector in such a tough position at the moment, his other enterprises are aiding his pig interests.
He explained: “Pigs, are losing a lot of money, the cattle and the sheep are propping it up now.”
He said that the biggest challenge in the pig sector currently is the feed price.
“The price of pork is fine if feed was at a normal price. Our feed bill for pigs is €17,000-€18,000/month more expensive than it was last year here.
“Pigs are going up in price but will need to go up more,” he said.
Of the future, Philip said that he is fully stocked with cattle and sheep so while he will not be expanding in numbers, he plans to further improve the quality of the breeding stock he has.
The Irish Limousin Cattle Society is celebrating its 50th year anniversary this year, he said, and will be having a number of events throughout the year to mark the occasion.