John Clarke, Doon, Strokestown, Co Roscommon changed his operation from a commercial Continental-cross suckler herd to a pedigree Shorthorn herd in 2006.
Growing up surrounded by Beef Shorthorns on neighbouring farms, John was drawn to the breed's functionality; ease of management; fertility; strong maternal characteristics and their docility - a trait that he believes is of paramount importance when it comes to a one-man operation.
Sowing the Seed
To pursue this passion, John ventured to Carrick-on-Shannon where he purchased his first pedigree heifer - the foundational animal of the Doon Shorthorn herd.
Subsequent purchases were made at the Shannonside Sale at Ennis and foundation cows were sourced from the Moydrum; Clonina; Lickeen; Bushypark; and Kilbride herds.
"I always tried to purchase the best animals possible; however it took me a few years to build up the numbers on my herd.” John Clarke told Catherina Cunnane of That’s Farming.
“It is interesting to see how cow families have developed from the best foundation cows.” He added.
The herd now comprises of twenty-six pedigree Shorthorn cows, with a split calving system in operation due to work constraints; cows calve in the early autumn and spring.
John seeks his brother’s assistance to run the farm when the workload increases significantly or when he is away pursuing other business affairs.
He strives to breed a functional modern Shorthorn that suits the current market demands.
“The cattle must have style in order to compete in today's marketplace. All the other breeds are pushing forward and as a Beef Shorthorn breeder, I want to be able to compete also.” John outlined.
Quality genetics play a very important role in the farm’s breeding policy, as Doon Shorthorns now operate as a closed herd and use 100% AI.
John has introduced Canadian; Australian and English bloodlines to the Doon genetic pool, as he strives to improve the progeny through careful attention to key traits including ease of calving; carcass; milk; and fertility.
“I feel it is important that the animal operates efficiently from a grass-based system rather than grass-based breeding animals that need supplementary feeding.”
“I operate a strict culling policy and any animal that doesn't fit into the breeding policy are culled.” John outlined.
Animals that are suitable for breeding are sold off-farm or at the Irish Shorthorn Society spring and autumn sales.
John is also participating in ICBF’s Whole Herd Programme Recording and feeds that this is a very important tool for his breeding programme.
“The results of the annual visits give me key metrics to evaluate the performance of the animals.”
“I also believe it will give prospective buyers confidence in using genetics from my herd.” He stressed.
[2018-born weanling heifer]
The fruits of his endeavours have resulted in the herd having the unique distinction of having three bulls selected for the G€n€ Ireland programme.
The first animal to lead the charge was Doon Erasmus (EMS) - a son of Perfect Storm off one of the herd’s best females.
He was subsequently purchased by Progressive Genetics and his semen is widely available.
“This bull has made a big impact on the Shorthorn breed here in Ireland and also his semen has been exported to other countries around the world.”
Erasmus has sired All-Ireland Champions on the Show circuit in Ireland and his progeny have been trialled with positive results from ABP research; on a demonstration farm in Clonegal, Co Carlow and at Tully Test Centre.”
“In fact, one of the best-performing animals at Tully on a recent test was an EMS sired bull off a Charolais dam.”
Following hot on Erasmus’ heels was Doon Gladiator (SH2361) - a son of PZT (Paintearth Rama) out of a foundation cow purchased from Mr. Jude Benson.
Doon Giorgio (SH2360) is the third Doon Shorthorn bull to stand in AI; he is a white polled son of Chapelton Typhoon and his dam was the first animal that John purchased when established his pedigree herd.
John was first elected onto the Irish Shorthorn Society Council as Honorary Treasurer in 2013 and feels that his background in financial services played a major role in helping the society to achieve its financial goals.
He also was responsible for the exhibition at the National Ploughing Championships and improving procedures at the Irish Shorthorn Society's Premier Sale - an annual event that attracts customers from the UK and Northern Ireland.
I retired from the council earlier this year after five years as Honorary Treasurer and am satisfied that I made a very positive contribution to the society.”
Going forward, John will continue to focus on the genetic improvement of the herd and the development of the farm as a whole.
“On the farm, I am looking to increase efficiencies by way of growing more grass per hectare and will plan to continue to reseed a percentage of the farm each year."
On the breeding front, the replacement index of the herd currently sits at €127 and boasts five-stars, while the herd index for milk and daughter calving interval also carry a five-star rating.
Irish Shorthorn Premium Beef Scheme
The Roscommon native will continue selling the herd's best animal for breeding purposes, while the second-grade animals are finished as steers, supporting the new Irish Shorthorn Premium Beef Scheme, which is managed by the Shorthorn Marketing Company.
The scheme pays a bonus of 15c all-year-round on Shorthorn sired bullocks and heifers that display the SH or SHX breed codes on their passport that are processed by ABP Food Group at Nenagh and Clones.
He is in favour of more trials being conducted on Shorthorn cattle and believes that the results will back up the viability of the breed.
“For many years, Beef Shorthorns were viewed as a window to the past; it is not nostalgia that will drive the breed forward.”
“Beef Shorthorns are proposition some farmers should consider. I have never looked back since I made the change.” John concluded.