A trip across the waters to French soil shaped sowed the seed for Alaster Swift, Monfin, Enniscorthy, Co. Wexford who grew up on a farm with his mother.
It was when Alaster transferred from Harper Adams University, U.K to a renowned French university for a six-month semester that he discovered Parthenaise cattle and Rouge de l’Ouest sheep.
He returned back to the farm in Co. Wexford after his completed his Agricultural degree in 2001 and introduced the two breeds to the pastures. He has since garnered a reputation as a well-esteemed breeder of high-end sheep and cattle, as a selective breeding policy is at the fore.
The herd which is managed under the ‘Monfin’ prefix has expanded since its initial established, with a total of seventeen pedigree Parthenaise; two commercial Parthenaise cows; four in-calf pedigree heifers and thirteen young pedigree heifers.
“When I saw Parthenaise cattle out in France, they appealed to me because of the muscle that they have. They are also extremely docile and I am able to handle them on my own.” Alaster Swift told Catherina Cunnane of That’s Farming.
In order to introduce new blood to the herd, the part-time farmer utilises semen imported from the breed’s native home soil through the Irish Parthenaise Cattle Breed Society. The cows are served in mid-December through to January when Alaster is on the farm on a full-time basis and a quality stock bull is introduced to the herd after this period.
“I try to a select a stock bull every year from one of my best cows that I have bred via AI and I then sell on that stock bull. I try to rotate the genetics so that I have different genetics being used annually.”
“I try to keep E and U grade cows that have good motherly abilities. I have a desire to keep higher quality stock, with a focus on quality over quantity.”
To improve the genetic merit of the females in the herd, Alaster strives to retain heifers that are at the upper end of the market and any inferior heifers are sold for finishing. He has also exported a number of Parthenaise heifers to the Czech Republic.
Shows and Society
The Wexford native has taken the seat of Treasurer of the Irish Parthenaise Cattle Breed Society, having joined the organisation up to six years ago. As part of this role, Alaster’s main responsibility is to implement a computerised-based accounts system. He is also involved in the organisation of the Gorey Show and was previously responsible for the breed’s presence at the National Ploughing Championships.
As part of the Monfin’s herd’s society membership, Alaster is also involved on the show circuit locally and nationally, with a cabinet full of prestigious silverware including red rosettes to signify the herd’s success. Two of the herd’s cows - Duchesse and Killowen Gail also featured in the top twenty replacement-index cows published by ICBF in March-2016 - something that the breeder regards as one of his biggest milestone memories to date.
“I like showing cattle because it really quietens the cattle down and this is really beneficial particularly when as the cows grow older.”
“They are used of being handled and being led which means that at calving time, you can go up to them and throw a halter over them and walk them anywhere in the yard - this is a really big help when I am calving down on my own,” Alaster added.
Rouge l’Ouest Sheep
On the sheep front, Alaster owns thirty pedigree Rouge sheep, while an additional twenty hogget ewes are set to join the flock this year. Alaster was extremely impressed by the breed’s maternal traits; strong mothering abilities and hardiness when he first discovered the breed.
“As soon as the lambs are born, they are up and sucking. They are very easy to manage.” Alaster explained.
Alaster also takes a progressive approach when it comes to his ovine breeding programme, with an emphasis placed on the selection and utilisation of quality genetics, similar to the cattle end of the farm. He acquired the ram lamb that was crowned All-Ireland champion at Balmoral Show.
“Any ewe that shows up with footrot or feet problems more than twice in the year is culled and replaced with a ewe lamb.” Alaster highlighted.
The sheep flock has witnessed similar success, with several ribbons claimed at an array of agricultural shows throughout the country.
Looking forward to the future, Alaster has his eyes fixed securely on continuing to make a powerful break into international markets with both his flock and herd.
In terms of his sheep flock, a determined Alaster hopes to find his feet in the Carlisle sheep market as he continued to sell pedigree ram lambs to local farmers.
On the Parthenaise cattle front, Alaster plans to focus on harvesting and selling embryos overseas, while has also set an ambitious target of securing a bull carrying the ‘Monfin’ prefix into A.I.
“I believe that the Parthenaise cattle have a lot to offer, but unfortunately farmers being quite reserved in changing their breeds and methods, admire the cattle, stand back and look but don’t give them an opportunity.
“I think breaking the market where there are other traditional breeds that have been there for many decades has been difficult for the breed to get established,” Alaster concluded.
Image Source: Monfin Parthenaise Herd Enniscorthy Facebook Page.If you are a cattle and/or sheep breeder and you want to share your story, email - firstname.lastname@example.org - and you may be featured on That’s Farming next week.