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Saturday 3 December 2016

Exploring new frontiers in beef breeding

A Co Laois farmer is taking on what many beef breeders regard as a 'mission impossible'

Martin Ryan

Published 25/11/2015 | 02:30

'Clonagh Dora the Explorer' National Livestock Show Overall Champion 2014, daughter of 'Banwy T-Rex' with Garrett Behan, Lyndsey Behan and Tom Maloney, President ISCS.
'Clonagh Dora the Explorer' National Livestock Show Overall Champion 2014, daughter of 'Banwy T-Rex' with Garrett Behan, Lyndsey Behan and Tom Maloney, President ISCS.

Garrett Behan is on a mission that some would regard as daunting and many believe to be 'impossible' - he wants to breed a 'continental type' Angus for beef production.

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Along with his wife, Lyndsey, he runs the 'Clonagh' and 'Jennalyn' Simmental herds on their farm at Cloneygowan, Ballyfin, Co Laois. He also keeps some pedigree Charolais and the recently introduced Angus which he is determined to breed into a heavier carcase, more akin to the continentals on the farm than the traditional type Angus.

Already, less than two years since the first Angus arrived, he is convinced that he is on the right road to achieving success in his mission, which could revolutionise the breed for beef producers.

"The bonus scheme on Angus is very important and if I can bring them to the weights that continentals can be put to, then they can get into something serious in return - very serious when the bonus is added," he says.

"With the Angus I am trying to do something that I'm told I will not be able to do, but, from what I see on the ground I think that I will. I am trying to produce an Angus that will be as good as the continentals for the suckler farmer. That is the road that I am going down," he explained.

The first crop of calves from his six Angus suckler cows are encouraging with "an Angus calf born in September weighing 172kg after putting on an average of 2.06kg/day" and described as a "great calf" with "serious width".

The performances will be closely monitored, and if all goes to plan, his intention is to increase the Angus to maybe 30 cows in the coming seasons to produce progeny capable of carcase weights rarely seen in the present genes for the breed.

The backbone of the herd continues to be the 70 Simmental suckler cows that continue to produce a record setting trail of winners for the show circuit.

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Although diversifying, both Garrett and Lyndsey are committed to the Simmental breed having met at a breed show where she was exhibiting stock from the family 'Milton' Simmental herd in Co Cork.

Traditionally a dairy farm, into which the first of the continentals as the foundation for the suckler herd were introduced more than a quarter of a century ago, the Behans' switch entirely to suckler farming came in 2001.

His plan for the Simmentals was to produce the best cows possible for herd replacements and most of the present herd have been bred on the farm.

"I bred to have the most feminine progeny that I could, because I am interested in having a good cow in the first place. I stayed away from the more masculine muscled bulls that a lot of people would go for" he said.

"If you don't try to breed good females all the time, the herd is only going to go one way and it is not the way that I want to see the herd of cows going. Farmers buy good bulls to breed good heifers.

"The herd is based on cows They are the backbone of any herd and if you use a very masculine bull and get that type of heifer it can take 10 years to breed them back out of the herd again and that is not what I wanted to be doing, because it was going nowhere," he stressed.

He was fortunate or visionary, maybe both, in his choice of 'Banwy T-Rex' as the stock bull, the first bull imported from the UK into Ireland which he purchased in Sterling for €12,500 at 19 months weighing 1,100kg.

Described as a "gentle giant" he became the only bull ever to win at the National Livestock Show at Tullamore for three years in a row and is now 1,800kgs with a 3.6pc mortality delivering the easiest calving in his class and very milky daughters.

The 10 year old former RDS Champion of Champions, the number one sire for maternal traits and number two for terminal, is now being phased into retirement to be replaced by 'Dragoon' from the Kilbride Herd in Northern Ireland.

Dragoon's sire Crugmelyn Brenin was purchased privately after winning his class at the English National Show in 2011.

He is producing fast-growing, long, correct, well-muscled cattle with excellent feet and legs and looks like becoming another great stock bull. Since the purchase, three more sons, all out of heifers have been sold privately off the farm.

"Having been impressed with the bulls on offer from Kilbride at a herd visit in August, I set eyes on Dragoon for his length, clean lines, and strength of second thigh and plates. Added to that, he is incredibly docile with a super head, bone and is correct throughout," he says.

Eye muscle

"His pedigree is an ideal cross for our herd and he also comes with an impressive set of performance figures behind him having scanned at 142, the highest scan ever at Kilbride giving him an eye muscle of +5.7, which ranks him in the top 0.01pc for the breed".

He is is convinced that this bull will continue the phenomenal success rate for the herd in recent years.

At the recent Simmental Show and Sale at Roscommon the Champion Junior Bull was 'Clonagh Fifty Shades' sold for €6,500; the Weanling Champion 'Clonagh G Spot' sold for €5,350, and the Yearling Heifer Champion 'Clonagh Fabulous Babe' which made €5,300 in the sales ring. Adding to the honour is Ossory South Eastern Club Yearling Bull Champion 'Clonagh First Class' and Eastern Club Yearling Heifer Champion 'Clonagh Fabulous Babe'.

The herd was home to seven national champions in 2014 including Overall Simmental of the Year 'Clonagh Dora the Explorer', the RDS Champion of Champions, having been champion calf at Strokestown adding to a unparalleled collection of awards over recent years.

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