With a background steeped in Agricultural heritage mainly poultry production as producers for Grove Turkeys, suckler farming remained an untouched territory for the McKenna family for generations.
Although the Monaghan-based family engaged in store-to-beef production and dabbled in calf rearing, Padraic McKenna, a fourth-generation farmer was the first to take a leap of faith into the suckler farming circles after completing his Green Certificate in 2007. The Glaslough, Co. Monaghan native hit the ground running by purchasing an Aberdeen-Angus bull to run with ten home-bred Hereford-cross breeding females, claiming that this was nothing shyer than a crafty experiment'.
“My father thought that I was mad and started to question me intensively about how we would calf them. We had basic handling facilitates and housing units at the time.” Padraic McKenna told Catherina Cunnane of That’s Farming.
“We had a few pens in an old shed and much to everyone’s surprise, I calved down the ten of them. I got great satisfaction from seeing the calves which gave me a drive for more, which led to the introduction of an Angus bull for two years and then a Charolais.” Padraic said.
Expansion & New Waters
Since then, over one decade later, Padraic, who farms with his father and younger brother, has worked towards building up a quality suckler cow base. They now count forty suckler breeding females and have set an ambitious target to hit over fifty suckler cows by spring 2019.
“It is difficult to build up suckler cow numbers and when you set out with a number in your head, you more than likely will not reach that number. There will always be one that won’t go back in-calf or one that will slip a calf, for example.” Padraic explained.
Spread over a golden 110-acres, the sixty-acres owned by the McKenna family is home to the suckler cow and calf pairings, while the leased out-farm comprising of fifty-acres is utilised to graze replacement heifers and as silage ground. These arrangements can accommodate for Padraic to work twenty hours off-farm every week, where he catches team for the multi-award winning Silverhill Farm, based in the heart of Emyvale, Co. Monaghan.
“I work in the early hours of the morning, which allows me to be around all day on the farm. My brother is available for the nightly calving calls, so it works hand-in-hand really.” Padraic said.
Although commercial cows are the core of the enterprise, keen to venture into pastures new, Padraic acquired the foundational breeding females of his pedigree Hereford herd back in 2013. Managed under the ‘Lisgoagh’ prefix, Padraic now counts five pedigree Hereford cows, with an additional five heifers retained as replacements.
“I started showing for the past three years at local Agri shows. I have picked up a few rosettes. It’s early days for me in the pedigree & showing circles, but I am leaning towards becoming known as a Hereford breeder.; that is the ultimate goal.” Padraic stressed.
“I have enjoyed my days on the show circuit and this new venture has allowed me to cross path with link-minded people that share the same interests,” Padraic explained.
All the bull calves enter into the mart rings, while heifers are retained until 15-18 months, an age which allows for the final decision to be made. The cream of the crop is selected as replacements, while the rest go under the hammer as store heifers.
“I will only breed of heifers that I like their physical appearance with a good, long and deep body! I do like a big cow and we’re lucky to have the land to carry them, but I am turning my attention to medium-sized cows now, that are half the size and can do just the job.” Padraic explained.
Obtaining a D.I.Y. A.I. licence has allowed Padraic has transformed his herd into 50% AI breeding, with all autumn calvers served to highly-proven five-star bulls in a bid to breed quality fit-for-purpose replacement heifers. His top picks include Simmental sires DBO and KJG and Limousin bulls including DHL; HCA and ZAG, all of which possess strong maternal roots.
“I like to have replacement heifers born in the autumn in the months of September/October. I find that these turned out to be great sized heifers because of their age. They are aged 16-months, the following spring, meaning that they are fit for breeding.” Padraic explained.
As herd numbers continue to climb and the genetic merit of the cows improve, Padraic has already earmarked major progressive plans for the future. His main focus is to improve the infrastructure and accommodation on the home-farm, to allow for improved management of the rapidly increasing suckler herd.
“Cows and calves need to be under a watchful eye at all times. If you arrive a half-a-day late, you may find a dull calf and that can be the difference between life and death.” Padraic stressed.
“Improved facilities on the farm will allow me to increase my suckler cow numbers too. I would be immensely satisfied if I could achieve my goal of fifty calvings in 2018/2019. While I will be increasing numbers, I also hope to improve cow quality.” Padraic concluded.
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