Willie Mulhall – who previously worked in a financial institution and stonemasonry – took over the family farm in 2009 after his father passed away.
At the time, 28 cows formed part of a suckler-to-weanling conventional enterprise; however, Willie had a desire to change the direction of Derrymullen Farm.
The Allenwood, Co. Kildare native has since increased his herd size, changed his cow-type, invested heavily in infrastructure and implemented a paddock system.
In 2010, he purchased a Simmental bull and retained three crops of his daughters. It was during this period that Willie was introduced to the Speckle Park breed by the late Dermot Cahill – the former manager of Dovea Genetics.
“I was at Dermot’s daughter’s wedding and he asked me if I would be interested in trying something different,” Willie told Catherina Cunnane – That’s Farming.
The Kildare farmer purchased a number of embryos; the first Speckle Park calves were born on the farm in 2012.
Satisfied with the breed's performance, he began utilising more Speckle Park genetics and retained cross-bred females; by 2014, the herd comprised of forty Simmental-cross females.
He entered organic conversion in 2015 and now runs a suckler-to-beef operation on his 74-hectare holding.
“I saw that organic farmers were more in control of their own destiny.”
“More EU and governmental schemes are leaning towards environmental and animal welfare measures – organics tick all those boxes.”
“The other part of it was purely down to economics due to rising input costs and falling profit margins.”
Willie’s low-cost, efficient system required a different cow-type; “We have now transitioned into Angus and Speckle Parks bred from those Simmentals.” he explained.
52 breeding females - 25 of which are Speckle Parks - calved down in a seven-week period this year.
Three stock bulls help achieve this tight calving pattern – an Aberdeen-Angus is used on Speckle Park females and two home-bred Speckle Parks - a two-year-old and a four-year-old – are crossed with Angus-bred cows.
Willie believes that a Speckle Park's ease of calving, ease of management, short gestation and high fertility are key.
“Heifers have been calving down from 22-25-months of age since I took over the farm; all breeding females calve down without assistance.”
Willie also increases the herd’s nutrient intake prior to and during breeding; he has implemented a rotational paddock grazing system and breeding females have access to seaweed buckets before and during the breeding season.
“It’s similar to the way in which ewes are flushed; cows are moved to fresh grass every day.”
“Cows were grazed on kale two-weeks before Christmas until three-weeks before they calve.”
In addition to the aforementioned characteristics, the progressive farmer has also opted for Speckle Parks because of their docile nature as he runs Derrymullen Farm single-handedly; he also hosts open days on his holding.
The medium-sized breed's superior meat-eating qualities are vital, considering Willie’s long-term vision – selling beef directly to consumers.
“Speckle Parks are excellent browsers, which makes them ideal for my low-lying land; they have the ability to convert rough forage to high-quality meat,” he added.
“We have put a few in the freeze for ourselves; the meat has wonderful intramuscular fat (marbling).”
“Speckle Park are definitely worth a look; they have a lot to offer to dairy and beef farmers alike and demand is growing.”
Up to ten suckler pairings are also offered for sale from the herd – which is a BDGP participant - every year; some fifteen heifers are then introduced to the breeding programme.
“Our herd is very young – the average age is probably four-and-a-half.”
“Once a cow has replaced herself, if she has another bull calf, I would probably look to sell her.”
“If she had a heifer calf, particularly a Speckle Park, she would probably stay here for another year,” he added.
Some progeny from the farm – which is a participant in the Organic Farming Scheme – are slaughtered at Good Herdsmen, Cahir and Kildare Chilling; steers are killed under 36-months.
“A friend of mine is using a number of my Speckle Park-cross bulls on his dairy herd; he is attracting a premium of about €50/head for calves." explained the Speckle Park Society member.
“He is impressed with their ease of calving and tremendous vigour at birth.”
Willie’s main aim is to have a “very efficient 45-50-cow herd”, which is fully closed and grass-fed.
His end goal is to develop his own brand with a view to producing and selling top-quality organic grass-fed Speckle Park beef directly to consumers.
“We have conducted trials and people cannot wait for this to happen. We have to try to get our own chill room so we can age our meat for forty days plus.”
“I want to be sustainable - both economically and environmentally into the future.”
“Farmers are price-takers but we can improve production by changing things that we are in control of, by implementing infrastructural changes and breeding strategies,” he concluded.
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