As part of the Beef Focus Revisit series for the Christmas season, Agriland has taken a look back at some of the farmers involved in the Irish cattle business who featured in the Agriland Beef Focus series this year.
These farmers are just a sample of the many vibrant, enthusiastic characters who are men and women, both young and old and are involved in various stages of cattle breeding and rearing that when combined, forms the Irish beef industry.
In this Beef Focus Revisit, we take a look at Miriam and Rachel Hastings’ who run their family’s suckler and sheep farm in Co. Galway.
Farming 100ac on the Roscommon/Galway border, the Hastings sisters are running a suckler and sheep farm with a major focus on producing quality progeny from their suckler herd.
Agriland traveled to the farm in August to find out more about the Hastings sisters’ suckler operation, which is run in conjunction with their parents.
The suckler enterprise consists primarily of pedigree Charolais cows, as well as a number of pedigree Limousin and commercial suckler cows also.
From their time in the pedigree business, the Hastings sisters have developed a network of customers who buy their pedigree bulls and heifers off-farm at approximately one year old.
As well as the confirmation and impressive calves produced by the herd’s cows, another notable factor is how docile the cows are – appearing almost totally undisturbed when entering the paddock.
The sisters noted that when breeding cows, they place a huge emphasis on docility and ease of calving.
Click on an image in the gallery (below) to enlarge, and scroll sideways to view some of the Hastings sisters’ animals.
Some of the heifer calves are kept as replacements and the remainder of the progeny from the suckler herd are sold as yearlings at the mart.
The majority of cows are calved on the farm in February and March with just a few Autumn-calving cows on the farm.
All cows are calved indoors. During the winter, cows are penned in accordance with their calving dates and are fed baled silage.
Six weeks prior to calving, cows are fed a mix of oats, minerals and soya, to help give the cow energy, boost milk quality and assist the cow in the development of a strong, healthy calf.
The Hastings believe the cow’s diet in the lead up to calving is “hugely important” to get right, as when fed correctly, cows have less difficulty at calving and have plenty of milk for calves afterwards.
As cows come near due calving date, they are placed in straw-bedded calving pens.
Cows and calves are let out to grass in April. They are grazed on a paddock and strip-grazing system.
Calves are given a small amount of meal in the run up to weaning to further reduce their dependency on the cow and are gradually weaned off before housing.
The breeding season
Breeding takes place on the farm from May onwards.
There is a stock bull kept on the farm but a decision is made at the start of the year as to what cows will be bred with artificial insemination (AI) and what cows will be put to a stock bull.
During the breeding season, cows are kept close to the house and are checked regularly. Kamar patches and a vasectomised bull are used as heat-detection methods.
The AI bulls used on the farm this year are as follows:
- Knockmoyle 10 Loki;
- Potterleigh Mark.
- Lisduff Pepper (Red Angus used on commercial suckler cows).
John Downey is the farm’s AI technician and Gerard Beirne scans all cows on the farm 60 days after breeding.
The Hastings sisters outlined that their scanning report determines the number of days the cow is in calf as well as the sex of the calf.
The Hastings sisters outlined that cows are identified for culling if issues arise with feet, milk or docility.
The Hastings place a huge emphasis on farm safety and outlined that “any animal that is cross or makes strange with people in the field is not given a second chance”.
The Hastings sisters
Miriam and Rachel Hastings have been involved in their family farm from a young age.
The sisters developed an interest in pedigree cattle at a young age and the Irish Charolais Cattle Society’s Nevin McKiernan introduced the Hastings sisters to the Charolais Youth Development Competition – since then, the Hastings’ pedigree herd has gone “from strength to strength”.
Miriam is a primary school teacher and Rachel is currently a lecturer and the sisters say their jobs allow them plenty of time off to focus on their home farm.
Both Miriam and Rachel plan to continue farming on a part-time basis into the future and further develop and improve the quality of the stock in their herd.