A growing interest is being seen among Irish suckler farmers for bigger cows, high-end sucklers with the impressive ‘U-grade’ confirmation, nice colour, strong physical presence and a beef-bred cow with an overall impressive appearance.

A cohort of farmers in Ireland – both north and south – who share a collective passion for breeding these commercial cows – which can only be described as a class of their own – are excelling in the business which is becoming a growing market – in particular with young people interested in suckler farming.

Based in Doonis, The Pigeons, Athlone, Co. Westmeath, the McGee family can only be described as an outstanding example of a family farm, producing suckler progeny with an attention to detail that one has to see in order to believe.

Agriland paid a visit to the farm to see first-hand the suckler operation run by the McGees, ahead of their herd Production Sale which is taking place this weekend on the online MartEye platform.

The McGees are full-time suckler farmers based in Co. Westmeath, farming 550ac of land with the help of Daniel Lynam.

The McGees keep approximately 240 suckler cows and operate a strict spring-calving regime.

Enda explained the farm has been in the business of suckler production for over 25 years and said that the farm was a beef farm before then.

Enda explained: “For years we exported all our calves and it’s only in the last number of years that we started retaining heifers for the home market.

“A niche seems to have opened for people looking for these better-type cows, so we started selling a lot of our heifers for the home market. It’s gained huge momentum in the last couple of years but most noticeably in the past three years or so.”

Commenting on the farm’s customer-base, Enda said: “We have return customers every year, so our target is our existing customers but also suckler farmers of all scales and sizes looking to breed an export-quality weanling, and farmers who are looking for a better cow all the time.

“We generally sell all our stock from home and our customers come back year-on-year,” Enda outlined.

“This sale is a new venture for us; until now, heifers have been sold privately. The heifers for sale are a good representation of the type of weanlings we produce here,” he added.

The breeding of high-end sucklers

The McGees’ passion for their farm and what they produce is evident on arrival, but Enda admitted his big focus is on the breeding of his commercial herd of suckler cows.

He explained: “A lot of focus goes into the breeding of these heifers, the bloodlines play a big part in it.

“Predominantly, the two breeds we have interacted with for years and years are Belgian Blue and Limousin and our cows are predominantly a mix of both.

“We are working off almost all hybrid bulls over the past number of years so the bulls we use are 50:50 Blue-Limousin cross.

Enda explained that all cows on the farm are home-bred however, he added: “We buy something that enhances the herd every other year.”

sucklers beef focus

Continuing, he noted: “We believe cow traits are hereditary so we watch the cow families for ones that have calved, milked, had longevity, and don’t need preferential treatment.

“If a heifer doesn’t calve well on her first year, she wont get a chance on her second year.

“The big traits we have followed for years and years are milk and pelvis because without both of these traits correct, a cow is not sustainable. You can have a muscly cow but she has to be able to calve or she won’t stay with us.

“If a cow is not fit to calve and rear a calf then they don’t stay here. We are very strict on culling and always have been over the years, to put this herd of working cows together.

“The heifers we retain for breeding are run very much commercially. They have to be to fit into the system. There would be none of our cows getting preferential treatment, they have to be able to stand alone and do their job here,” Enda emphasised.

“They look the part but they have to do the business also.

“We try avoid side-door jobs. We don’t like too many of them,” Enda noted. “We don’t have a big number of c-sections because we have worked very hard on the calving ability trait.”

“All heifers are export tested, high-health status, fully vaccinated and weaned off the cows. We want to have them right for the next farmer,” Enda explained.

The future

Enda added that looking to the future, the farm plans to continue improving the herd’s breeding and said “numbers-wise, we are happy to work with what we have”.

“It’s a family run farm and we want to do what we’re doing and keep trying to do it better,” he said.

Concluding, Enda stated: “These heifers are steeped in breeding and would be a great acquisition for any farmer. They didn’t come here by accident and there’s huge thought put into breeding these heifers to become functional cows.”

Viewing of the heifers is available on MartEye or alternatively, interested buyers can visit the farm today, Saturday, November 27, from 12:00p.m onwards. The farm’s Eircode is: N37 WK70.

Bidding for the timed auction is available on MartEye and will close on a lot-by-lot basis on Monday evening.