Generations of champions
The O'Keeffe family from Mallow have a record that's second to none in the Suffolk sheep breeding world, reports Martin Ryan
Wherever a group of pedigree sheep producers meet in Ireland, mention of Arthur or Susan O'Keeffe is all that it necessary to identify one of the oldest established and consistently most successful Suffolk flocks in the country.
The O'Keeffe family farm, outside Mallow, Co Cork has been synonymous with Suffolks for more than half a century and rarely out of the headlines for long as one of the leading flocks in the country and among the top award winners.
"As far back as I can remember I was going to shows and sales with sheep," says Arthur recalling that the pedigree Suffolk flock was established by his father, Arthur, in 1962 and has been on the farm ever since.
"My father had been in beef and at the time he got married, he started into the sheep and choose the Suffolks which have been very successful with us over the years," he added.
Today, the sheep enterprise on the farm consists of three flocks. Arthur continues to run 150 pedigree Suffolks, as well as some pedigree Texel. His sister, Susan, a school teacher by occupation but with a love for farming, started her own flock of pedigree Suffolks in 1988, and more recently Arthur's son, Patrick, who is full-time farming, started his own "small" flock. In addition, they run around 100 ewes in a commercial flock.
"I stayed with the Suffolks, which were on the farm before I came around, because I like them. They are versatile and produce fast-growing lambs, a very good breeding ewe and they are quick to finish. That is what I like about them. They have a lot of pluses," he says.
The Texel is a different market. For the commercial flock, cross-breeding can produce some very good stock. Both have their roles, different but complementary.
Exhibiting lambs from the flock has always been part of the lifestyle for the family, and Arthur feels it stokes the interest in having the "good ones", which is not easy all of the time - but they have been remarkably successful.