Niall Canning and his family are among the most successful Charolais breeders in the country, having had a winner in the herd every year since 2009.
A Bank of Ireland worker by trade, the 29-year-old has a heavy influence on the home farm and even shows during summer months. Niall and the rest of the Canning family run Sagesse Charolais, operating on a small holding near the picturesque setting of Rosses Point in the Yeats County of Sligo.
“I am full-time in Bank Of Ireland. I am a youth recruitment officer. I go around to different schools and try and recruit them in, teaching them interview skills, training and carrying out talks”, said Niall.
Niall began his career in banking following the completion of a Business and Financial services degree in his local Sligo I.T. He then went onto complete his honors degree and began his banking career, before family tragedy struck, meaning Niall needed to move closer to home.
“My mum died about two years ago and I was in Galway at the time. I just needed to get back home”, he said.
This is what led Niall to taking on a role in Bank Of Ireland in Sligo, just like his mother Anne once had, whilst also helping out on the home farm. Now following in his father’s footsteps, he has gone on to juggle a full-time banking career with the running of the family farm, while also taking time to play his beloved football.
“Farming, football and bank, that’s my life at the minute”, Niall laughed.
Niall was also recently involved in a fundraising effort, The Farming Road Show, for NorthWest Hospice. The group's efforts enabled them to raise in excess of €36,000 for the charity, one which has close ties to the Canning family following the untimely passing of Niall's mother Anne.
How it all began -
Their journey into agriculture truly began back in 1985, as the family moved from Dublin to Sligo.
This was done as Niall’s father, Brendan, had just secured the manager's position in a new TSB bank branch which had recently opened in Sligo town. It all began with the purchase of a site, which just so happened to include a few acres of farming land.
They really only got into keeping pedigree cows when Niall’s uncle, Tom, completed an Ag Science degree from UCD and advised Brendan that keeping a pedigree herd was the way forward. Upon this advice, Brendan embarked on a search for the perfect stock, settling on the Skidoo herd in Ballycoughal, Dublin
“In 1987, dad bought his first animal from the sale of Skidoo herd”, Niall said.
“Because of the land available, he was advised to get into Pedigree cattle...It wasn’t planned at all”, he added
Although they currently run a small herd, usually focusing their efforts on four cows, the Canning’s have been extremely successful in a short space of time.
“We are very reduced in numbers, as we do a lot of flushing and embryo work. We have four cows that we work from”, Niall said.
“We go for quality and not quantity. We are very small in what we do”, he added.
Showing and Success to date -
The family have been showing for many years now, with Niall himself and his siblings all trying their hand and to great success. Showing duties are now mainly carried out by Niall and his sister Aine.
“Elaine is the singer, Nicola is the nurse, Aine is the show woman and myself and dad are the workers,” Niall joked.
The family’s first taste of success as a pedigree breeding herd came in 2003, with Monaduff Maggie, the family’s only ever Simmental cow in the herd. Niall also tasted his own share of success that day in 2003, as he took home the National Stockman title.
“The last RDS show we actually won in 2003 with a Simmental called Monaduff Maggie. I won the National stockman that day as well”, Niall informed That’sFarming’s Kevin.
“When she died (Monaduff Maggie) we focused on the Charolais then”, Niall added.
The family have been on a bit of a hot streak as of late, having had a national champion every year since 2009. Niall says this success is due to a trip to France taken by Brendan, where he attended the ‘la Roche sur yon’ in 2006 and purchased the calf champion, Brillante.
“This really changed the herd and the herd has won an all Ireland every year since 2009”, Niall explained.
2006 Sagesse Brillante - bought from France. Champion calf la Roche sur yon in France. First calf Sagesse Echo.
2009 - Sagesse Ella + Sagesse Dianna - The two full sisters won the national calf pairs also.
2010 - Sagesse Echo
2011 - Sagesse Florienne - Next calf of Sagesse Brillante - Sold later that year €14,200 to the O’Kane brothers. Her son went onto become the champion in Stirling, selling for £16,000.
2012- Sagesse Henrietta- Sold, but returned and won in 2013.
2013 - Sagesse Ivan
2014 - Sagesse Jessica
2015 - Sagesse Julienne
2016 - Sagesse Lauren - Sold for top price of €8,200 at Charolais Christmas Cracker.
2017 - Saggesse Martha, Senior Female Calf Champion and Gold Medal Winner at Tullamore National Livestock show.
Future of Sagesse Charolais -
Although they usually compete in the majority of the local agricultural shows, this year Niall has many other commitments and the family will instead focus all of their efforts on Tullamore. One such commitment is that Niall is about to take part in the TV GAA series on TG4, Underdogs.
“Usually we would go to Erris, Bellmullet and Riverstown, but because of the Underdogs, I will be away. I would say our next show will be Tullamore”, he said.
Otherwise, over the coming months and years, the Canning’s will look to continue their success to date by doing what they have always been doing, keeping numbers at the same levels. They are also in the midst of preparing last year’s winning heifer at Tullamore for the coming season.
“Our heifer that won Tullamore last year...We are preparing her and getting her ready for showing”, Niall said.
“We have four embryos due to calf in September. That is our plan to work from them and keep flushing”, he explained.
Niall said that although their system won’t change much in the short term, the family have begun experimenting with different genetics and bulls in a bid to keep up with the current market demands. Niall says this is something they will continue to do over the coming years.
“You have to move with the market...It has really changed recently, with stars very important now”, said. Niall.
“We are using bulls we thought we would have never used, but we using them because we are going with the market and with the stars”, he added.
Other than that, you will most likely continue to see and hear about the showing exploits and success of the Canning family, though not from the modest family themselves.
“In 2009 after we won the All Ireland, we said that if we never won an All Ireland again we would be happy, as that was our dream. We never thought in our wildest dreams that we would have the run we have”, Niall noted.
“It’s just been brilliant, for a small herd like us and to win Gold last year was just unbelievable”, he added.
Why he loves what he does -
Driven by family pride and looking to continue what has now become a family tradition, Niall enjoys not only the thrill and success of showing, but also the more simple aspects of the industry.
A true animal enthusiast, Niall enjoys the freedom of working with the herd and the satisfaction in watching them grow.
“The freedom of it is one thing, but the love of animals is a bug”, Niall noted.
Niall also explained the close-knit nature of the farming community, something he noticed following the passing of his mother, as another reason behind his passion for the industry.
“When my mother passed away, the amount of people that arrived to pay their respects. The cattle community is a brilliant, close-knit community”, he said.
“You could be anywhere in the world and you can always find someone to talk to about a cow or a tractor”, he chuckled.
A young man driven to continue his family’s proud tradition, for Niall success is “in the blood” and we will no doubt continue to see Niall and the Canning family name, popping up on the show circuit for many more years to come.
Let’s hope the Canning’s winning streak will continue for another nine years and it no doubt will with Anne watching proudly over them.
Pictured above the entire Canning family, prior to Anne's untimely passing.