Joe Miley and his sons - Mark and Declan, are pedigree Belclare; pedigree Charollais and pedigree Limousin breeders from Ballyglass, Knockcroghery, Co. Roscommon; they also have a commercial suckler herd and a sheep flock.
They embarked on this journey in 1992, with the purchase of their first pedigree sheep – a Suffolk in-lamb ewe from the Chessy Flock and continued breeding these until 2007 culminating in the Suffolk All-Ireland in 2004 with Knockcroghery Claypipe.
In 1997, a local Teagasc advisor encouraged the Mileys to introduce Belclare sheep to their farm; they acquired three foundational females that year and then purchased two females the following year at a premier sale.
They crossed Belclare rams with their early-lambing ewes from the early-mid-nineties. The flock was also part of a project in conjunction with University College Dublin (UCD) from 1976 that focused on the trialling of synchronisation of ewes for early lambing.
The Mileys were drawn to the Belclare breed because of its ease of management; ease of lambing, the vigour of lambs; its ability to raise the prolificacy of the Irish sheep population; resistance against disease; its docility and excellent lamb carcass quality.
[Belclare hogget ewe winning the Overall all-Ireland champion 2018 at the NSBA /RDS championships]
Milestone memories for their Belclare flock including paying €1,500 in 2003; winning the Belclare Champion at Tullamore Show on numerous occasions and having their first Belclare premier sale champion in 2004.
The flock consists of forty pedigree Belclare ewes and they are always striving to improve quality through selective breeding.
"In relation to ram selection for the flock, as a pedigree breeder, regardless of the size of the breed, there is a major challenge is access to rams." Declan Miley told Catherina Cunnane - That's Farming.
"At the beginning, we used to buy a ram every two years, but now, when we see a ram that suits our flock, we may purchase him if the genetics suit our lines,"
In 2017, the Mileys forked out €2,200 for Cahergal Casimiro and he went on to sire this year's Belclare Premier Sale Supreme Champion - Knockcroghery Deputy who topped the sale at €1,220.
"We currently hold the Belclare breed record of 2900gns with Knockcroghery Champion [pictured above] and have the breed record, winning the premier sale nine out of last ten years including a seven-in-a-row!" Delcan outlined.
The flock's rams are sold at society sales, with a number of deals also sealed privately at farm gate level.
Declan revealed that one of the enjoyable elements of breeding pedigree animals is the return of repeat customers.
"The majority of our rams are sold without being seen by the prospective purchasers; the trust is put into me as a pedigree breeder to provide a good quality sheep."
"If a farmer rings me looking for a ram and I send him a wrong ram, not only have I lost him as a prospective customer but I have possibly lost up to six more potential purchasers too."
[Oprah winning All-Ireland aged ewe and Reserve Overall All-Ireland champion 2018 at the NSBA /RDS Championships]
In November-2012, the Mileys diversified into a second sheep breed, purchasing their first Charollais foundational females - two from the Lisfuncheon Flock at a society sale; the pedigree Belclare and Charollais sheep are farmed along a commercial flock.
They secured one female from the Awbeg Flock; another from the Powerview Flock and two females from the Logie Durno Flock in Aberdeen, Scotland.
The flock (code H19) now consists of approximately thirty pedigree Charollais - a breed that the family selected for its ease of lambing and excellent growth rates. Declan also states that both the Charollais and Belclare breeds cross extremely well.
To date, they have purchased four Charollais rams and utilise A.I. in order to access superior genetics, with a view to improving the genetic merit of progeny.
"We purchased Ballyhibben Tadgh Furlong this year; he was crowned the male champion at the All-Ireland and I am very hopeful that he will bring us to the next level with his genetics."
The Roscommon breeders ventured to the U.K last year to purchase a ram - Knockin Seabiscuit; this year, females have been AI'd to Knockin Seabiscuit and Ballyhibben Tadgh Furlong.
"I believe that if you don't aim for the stars, you won't hit the clouds. If you are breeding predominately as best you can, you are still breeding to a level for Pedigree breeders and top commercial farmers."
The family bred a ram lamb sired by Logie Durno Jackpot, that was tapped forward as the Reserve Male Champion and Reserve Supreme Champion at the 2014 Irish Charollais Sheep Society Premier Show and Sale; he was knocked down at €2,000 to a U.K. breeder.
They also parted ways with Knockcroghery Constable at this sale and he bred the Premier Sale Champion for the Lisfuncheon Flock, the following year.
"Our flock favourite is Oprah; she was imported from the Logie Durno Flock; she won the overall breed championship in 2015 and 2016."
"In 2017, she bred Knockcrogery Sportsman - a ram lamb that was the Overall All-Ireland Champion."
"This year, she bred a ewe hogget that was the Overall All-Ireland Champion and Oprah herself was the Overall Reserve."
With those results, the Knockcroghery Flock has now the distinction of being the first flock to win a whopping four Overall All-Ireland Championships in a row.
Suckler farming paints part of the pictures for the Mileys as they began breeding Limousin cattle in 2007, with the purchase of a single female - Newtown Abigale, a Nenuphar daughter.
She was served to Sauvignon and had Knockcroghery Debbie in October-2008; Debbie found a new home at €4,700 at the 2010 Irish Limousin Society sale.
They also secured €6,900 for Knockcroghery Hero, who was purchased by the Allanfauld herd in North Lanarkshire.
The herd now counts three pedigree Limousin breeding, one of which is Knockcroghery Kardashian - the National Junior Champion at the World Limousin Congress in 2016.
"Kardashian has her embryo calf, Knockcroghery Nijinsky, on the ground at the minute, by Trueman Jagger, which I have very high hopes for."
"I have another embryo calf from Kardashian due the first week of January.”
Pedigree Limousins calve down from December-February, with a view to producing bulls for a spring service for the following year.
They also farm a commercial herd of Limousin-crosses; the calves are sold at shows and sales in marts including Roscommon and Mountrath, with several of the progeny picking up ribbons. The herd took home 2520gns for a 295kg commercial Limousin heifer calf at the 2015 Winter Fair.
"I do our own AI; each cow is inseminated to a bull that hopefully will suit her genetics," Declan said.
Going forward, the Mileys - prize-winning sheep and cattle breeders - will continue to maintain and improve the overall performance of their flocks and herds; they are satisifed with the size of the flocks but would like to bump up pedigree Limousin numbers.
"I believe flocks and/or herds shouldn't be limited in size, depending on the quality because there is always room for quality to be improved."
"Pedigree breeding can let you down, that one ram or one mating might not work and that might not maintain you at the same level as the previous year."
Declan who is the Chairperson of the Belclare Sheep Society; Vice-Chair of the National Sheep Breeders Society and the Vice-Chair of the organising committee of the RDS NSBA Championships is passionate about pedigree breeding.
"As a pedigree breeder, you get very attached to specific animals. Aside from the value and the worth of the animal, there is a lot more to it; there's an emotional attachment.”
“You are always trying to better yourself and the breeds that you are specialising in," Declan concluded.
[ Knockcroghery Serena - the Charollais hogget winning overall all-Ireland champion at the NSBA/RDS Championships]
Image source: Knockcrogery Pedigrees
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