Hailing from near Ballinascarthy in West Co. Cork, Stephen Shannon comes from a strong agricultural background and the Shannon’s have been farming for many generations. They now farm on his mother’s home-farm, while some cattle are also kept on his father’s home farm in Ballydehob.
“The farm has been in my mother’s family for as far back as people can remember.” Stephen told That’sFarming.
“Our herd of 20 Angus cows are kept on a farm in Ballydehob where my father is from.” he added.
Stephen comes from a dairy holding, with the Shannon’s running an extensive operation with an 82-strong milking herd, made up of pedigree Holsteins and six pedigree Jerseys.
“There are six in our family. My parents, Robert and Shirley, and my three sisters, Dyane, Claire and Sarah and I.” Stephen explained.
“We run a dairy herd of 82 cows which consists of pedigree Holsteins and also a few pedigree Jerseys under the Ballydehob and Gabriel prefix.”, he added.
That is not all however, as the Shannon’s and 20-year-old Stephen, also run a herd of approximately 20 Angus cows, again under the Gabriel Prefix. Their dairy farming enterprise is run on a 26 hectare milking platform, with a number of outside blocks used for the Pedigree Angus herd and dry stock.
Was Agriculture always the dream?
For young Corkonian Stephen, a life in agriculture was always the sole intention having been bitten by the showing ‘bug’ at a young age. His journey in the sector truly began when he began showing the family’s Jersey and Angus calves at local shows throughout West Cork.
“From a young age I used to show our Jersey and Angus Calves at local shows around West Cork.” Stephen noted.
This led to Stephen getting involved in his local IHFA Young Members Association.
“As I got more involved I joined Cork YMA. The IHFA Young Members Association (YMA) is a voluntary organisation which caters for young people involved and interested in breeding, managing and exhibiting dairy cattle.” he said.
“The YMA is an outlet for young people to learn the skills and knowledge that will be helpful to them when buying, breeding, managing and exhibiting cattle, and helps develop these skills to the best of each individual’s ability.” he added.
From participation in the YMA, Stephen further developed his interest in the agricultural sector and also made a lot of friends in the process, while also taking on a new role within the YMA in recent times.
“I gained a great passion for stocking judging and preparing animals for shows and made a lot of great friends from all over the country with the same interests as myself.”, Stephen told Kevin.
“I am currently the treasurer of the Cork YMA club. We organise different events for young people to learn and develop their skills such as workshops on breeding, nutrition and showing and also we have our own calf show, field evening and farmyard Olympics.” he added.
Stephen has also had significant success in his relatively short agriculture career to date, having represented Ireland at the European Young Breeders School.
“I have been lucky enough to represent Ireland at the European Young Breeders School in Belgium last year which was an amazing experience and learned a lot about preparing and showing youngstock.” Stephen explained.
Following up to this strong passion gained at a young age, Stephen thought it wise to further his education and pursue a career in agriculture. He then went to UCD to study Animal Science and is after completing his maiden year.
“I picked animal science as this is the area that I am most interested in. My main interests are in breeding, genetics and nutrition and I believe that animal science Is best suited to the career I want to pursue once finished college.” he said.
“My aim at the moment is to finish my degree and see what opportunities present themselves. But I also still want to have a big role in our farm at home.” Stephen adds.
The Farm -
The family run a winter milk system, with 40% of their 82-strong milking herd calved between October and November. The remaining 60% are usually calved in the middle of January, with calving aimed to be finished by St. Patrick’s Day.
As mentioned their herd is mainly a pedigree Holstein herd, with some Jersey pedigrees(6) thrown in for good measure. Once calves are born on the farm, they are moved into individual calf pens. Once strong enough, they are then into moved into other pens for feeding from a milk bar.
Heifer calves are contract reared on a nearby farm, not to return to the farm in Ballinascarthy until they are two months from their first calving. Some of these are then sold as calved heifers and young cows, with the best performers chosen to join the milking herd.
“Once the heifer calves are 6 weeks old they are then contract reared by a farmer 5-miles away. The calves are kept there until they are 2 months from calving.” said Stephen.
“All calves are genomic tested. The bull calves are kept until the genomic tests are back. We then select the best bull’s calves (around 20), which we keep and sell at a year old as breeding bulls, with the other bull calves are sold.” he continued.
Milking is carried out in the family’s 6-unit double up Gascoigne parlour with meters and automatic cluster removers. With regards to feeding on the Shannon farm, they feed straight whole crop wheat, grown on contract, to their stock.
"Our feed for the winter is straight whole crop wheat, which is grown on contract. We usually cut about 18 hectares.”, Stephen noted.
“We also feed silage bales that are mainly cut from surplus grass covers. We are utilising around 16 tonnes /DM per hectare on the milking platform.” he adds.
The family aim to have cows out to grass by early February, not returning inside until late November, grass and weather dependent. Stephen recently bought some embryos from the world famous apple cow family, with the hopes of improving the herd performance.
“In 2014, I bought in embryos from the world famous apple cow family. This family has high fat and protein % and also produces cows with great udders, feet and legs with dairy strength.” he explained.
“They were out of Mr Mogul Delta, which subsequently became the number 1 bull in America.” said Stephen.
High Performing herd -
Not too many can lay this claim, but the Shannon’s herd is actually in the top 1% on the EBI list. Their herd achieved an average of €170 on the EBI list, split between €72 for fertility and €51 for milk.
“The herd is classified annually by independent IHFA classifiers and at present our herd as an average score of over VG85 points.” Stephen told Kevin.
The family have also bred a number of high-performing bulls over the years, some which you may have heard of. They also bred a number of pedigree Angus bulls for AI, such as Gabriel Mossy 1727 (AA4235) and Gabriel Pat 1949 (AA4631).
“Over the years we have bred a few bulls for AI, such as Ballydehob Justice (BYJ), Ballydehob Pat 1356 (HZB), Ballydehob Tucano 975 (TUJ), Ballydehob Dan (YBD), Ballydehob Roy 765 (YOA) and the most recent is Ballydehon Adam (FR4379). “ Stephen stated.
Stephen said good cow families is of paramount importance in their herd.
“Good cow families are very important to us, as they are more consistent at breeding good offspring even when you use a variety of sires. The main cow families in the herd include Patsy, Mary, Connie, Angel, Joyful and Trixie. Ballydehob OMan Patsy 2 EX92 is currently in her 8th lactation, having produced 6215kg of solids to date and EBI of €214.”, said Stephen.
Ballydehob OMan Patsy 2 EX92 is also the mother of ai bull Ballydehob Pat (HZB). One of the other herd members, Ballydehob OJ Trixie EX93, has an EBI of €250 and is due to calf in October with her 9th calf. She has produced 997kg of solids to date this year.
“Ballydehob OMan Mary EX92 also has an EBI of €250 is now in her 6th lactation with a projected lactation yield of 11,284kgs of milk at 5.74% fat, 3.56% protein. She is also the granddam of Ballydehob Adam (FR4379).” Stephen explained.
Ballydehob Oman Patsy 2 EX92, Dam of Ballydehob Pat (HZB)
As part of the parcel with running a high-performing dairy enterprise, the Shannon family opened the farm gates hosted an Irish Grassland farm walk back in 2012.
“We hosted the Irish Grasslands farm walk in 2012. We won the highest kg of soilds per hectare in the 2017 NDC and Kerrygold quality milk awards.” said the Cork farmer.
“We also won the RDS champion of champions in 2017. On the show circuit, we have won champion jersey cow at Clonakilty and Dunmanway show and also won the all-Ireland EBI cow class in Dunmanway show.” he said.
Last year in 2017, the herd performed excellently, selling 7,630kgs of milk at 4.07%bfat and 3.78% prot per cow. This equates 617 kilos of solids per cow and does not include milk fed to calves.
“We had a somatic cell count of 87 and a calving interval of 365 days. I am very happy to be working with a herd of high EBI pedigree cows.” said Stephen.
Ballydehob Oman Mary EX92 and Ballydehob DGC Mary VG87, GDam and Dam of Ballydehob Adam (FR4379)
When selecting bulls to use from A.I., the Shannons tend to look for bulls with positive milk, fat and protein percentages, while also having a good health score.
“We feel that in the next few years this is going to get more important. A good type score is important with good udders, feet and legs as these functional traits lead to longer lasting trouble free cows.” he noted.
“We use mainly genomic sires. This year we used bulls such as Perseus, Casper, Pinderault, Sebastain and our own homebred A.I. bull Adam, and a pack of gene Ireland high EBI test bulls.” he resumed.
The herd of 20 Angus cows are kept on the outfarm in Ballydehob. Also a high-performing herd, they have 84% of the herd with a 5-star replacement index and an average of €125. This is due to a renewed emphasis placed by the family on producing better quality offspring.
“Over the last few years we have put a lot more emphasis on producing Angus stock with low calving difficulty scores, because our main purchasers of bulls are dairy farmers.” noted Stephen.
“Calving ease is a high priority, but they still must be able to grow into a beef animal suitable for the market.” he said.
The Future -
Quite content with their top 1% herd, the family aim to maintain this level of success and performance over the coming years, improving any way they can.
They hope to continue breeding fertile cows, which will produce high Kgs of solids, are more healthy and overall more efficient.
“We aim to keep improving the herd’s functional type. All heifers and cows are inspected by IHFA classifiers every year and this can help identify poorer functional type cows which we either use a beef bull on or try to make a corrective mating.” Stephen explained.
They have no plans to add to their current milking herd and will instead focus on improving efficiency and overall performance. Stephen also had advice for those looking to pursue a career in agriculture.
“For anyone that would like to study agricultural science, I would suggest to find the course that best suits you and your interests. There are lots of courses all over the country some with more practical work and others more theory based.” he said.
“If you learn by doing work the more practical course is better suited to you, but if you can learn from books then maybe pick the more theory based one. As long as you are happy and enjoy what you are doing is the most important thing.” he advised.
One of the countries top 1% EBI herds, the Shannons will no doubt continue their hard work over the coming years, improving all the time. A passionate and dedicated dairy farmer at the ripe age of twenty, Stephen and his family have already achieved what most farmers can only dream about, National recognition of a job very well done. They will no doubt continue their hard graft over the coming years, especially if Stephen has his say.
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