Richard and Joe Fortune stumbled across Salers cattle at the National Ploughing Championships whilst searching for a cow-type that could produce Charolais-cross calves with ease.
The Knottown, Co. Wexford natives were drawn to the low-maintenance French breed because of its ease of calving, high fertility, docility, longevity, hardiness and milking ability.
Breeding pedigree Charolais cattle since 1987, the father-and-son-duo took a leap of faith and purchased thirteen three-quarter-bred Salers heifers in 1998; they then acquired a Salers cow and a heifer shortly afterwards.
Their first pedigree Salers calf was registered under the Knottown prefix the following year; the Fortunes then secured females from the Moygara, Sligo, Wicklow, Dunlo and Brownhall herds.
Richard travelled to the home of the breed in 2003 with Professor Jim Mason where he purchased Tulipe as a maiden heifer; she had a major influence on the herd, producing 12 calves with an average calving interval of 359 days.
Their next significant cow families came in the form of Unique and Usance - a set of French-born twin cows. “Usance, in particular, turned out to be very successful; she won the first RDS Champion of Champions Replacement Index award back in 2013 and is Knottown Roy’s and Knottown Randy’s grandmother,” Richard Fortune the told Catherina Cunnane - That's Farming.
The farm – which sits on 220-acres of grassland and 50-acres cereals - is now home to a herd of 125 pedigree registered Salers cows and a number of stock bulls.
“We strive to breed an average-sized cow ideally around 650kgs-700kgs with milk and a good temperament that will calf without assistance and go back in-calf quickly.”
There is a commercial element running alongside the pedigree system as 50% of the breeding females are served by Charolais sires; the remaining cows are bred to Salers bulls.
AI sires utilised in recent years include Beguin, Baron, Druide, Geronimo GD and Knottown Michael (KTM) and Knottown Roy (SA4604).
“For the last few years, I have picked out about 30 of the early-calving cows that I want to breed pure; I AI them for 3 weeks and then let them off with the stock bull.”
“This means we are busy for three weeks only in terms of detecting heat and AI’ing; if heat is not detected, the cows are not losing a lot of time this way.”
Satisfied with the herd’s submission and conception rates to AI, Richard has intentions to invest in modern heat detection technologies in order to increase AI usage.
“When you take the heat detection work out of it, it is a practical move to do more AI.”
Calving takes place in June and July and the breeding season gets underway on August 20th – the time of harvest.
“This is a very low labour system; cows are calving outside which means they are in a clean environment and are active.”
“You have a good hardy calf going into the shed in the autumn. From a pedigree perspective, we can have bulls of suitable strengths for both spring and autumn-calving systems.”
On average, seven pedigree bulls are sold every year, while females are also offered for sale as surplus breeding stock – the majority are sold from the farm; all other progeny are finished as bulls from 15-20-months.
Richard stressed that he will not register any pedigree bull with a birthweight in excess of 45kgs as he believes it is paramount to retain the breed’s ease of calving.
“We are recording birth weights for up to seven years at this stage.”
The herd – which is a participant in the BDGP (Beef Data and Genomics Programme) and WHPR (Whole Herd Performance Recording) - had a calf production figure of 102 (calves per 100 cows) and a calving interval of 366 days in 2018.
“We are big believers in recording data and linear scoring; this has helped up to build up our indexes and they are relatively stable.”
The herd has an average replacement index of €188; Knottown Patience has the highest rating with a replacement value of €294; she is not 4-years-old as of yet and has an average calving interval of 362 days.
“The main aim is to have heifers calving when they are 24-months-old,” Richard explained.
[Knottown Patience pictured with her latest calf born last week; her third calving]
Going forward, Richard - a member of BASE Ireland – is in the process of adopting biological farming practices by sowing multi-species swards instead of just PRG and white clover.
He is utilising mixes containing 7,10 and 13 species and hopes to reduce chemical usage on his enterprise.
“This theory involves taking soil and soil biology as your main focus and letting everything else build from there; health is built from the soil up.”
“I am trying to get a soil that is alive that has bacteria, fungi in it and from that, a healthy soil that will grow a healthy plant that will feed a healthy cow which will feed a healthy human.” He concluded.
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