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Wednesday 18 January 2017

Staying loyal to the cause of a native Irish breed

Cork breeder Richard Lee is achieving impressive genetic scores with his Shorthorn herd

Martin Ryan

Published 02/12/2015 | 02:30

Richard Lee with some of his shorthorn herd on his farm near Mitchelstown.
Richard Lee with some of his shorthorn herd on his farm near Mitchelstown.
The roan calf Knockagarry Improver 868 is a traditionally bred Shorthorn.

Admiration at first sight for the traditional Shorthorn breed of cattle, has grown into a life-long commitment to the native Irish breed for Richard Lee on his North Cork farm.

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The 'Knockagarry' herd is home to one of the few Gene Ireland five star-rated Shorthorn herds in the country in which 'Primrose' has a replacement index which has positioned the five star cow in the top 1pc of the Shorthorn breed for this trait.

"To stick with the Shorthorns over the years has not been that easy, because they were not the most popular breed on a suckler farm, but hopefully with what is coming up now for an old Irish breed, I'm hopeful that the new science could be a help," says Richard.

He inherited the farm at Kildorrery Road, Mitchelstown where today he keeps a herd of about 40 commercial Shorthorn sucklers, and except for some of the progeny kept and sold for breeding, concentrates on producing good yearlings for sale to commercial beef finishing farmers.

The lifelong commitment to the breed started for Richard more than 30 years ago.

"It was purely by accident as I had an uncle who took me under his wing.

"We used to go to the factory in Clonmel with cattle and pass the lovely herd of dual purpose Shorthorns in Col Watson's place at Ballingarrane which I was always admiring in the fields.

"So it happened we called in there one day and my uncle decided to buy three heifers. When we brought them home he told me that the heifers were for me. That was 1983, the start of the milk quota and I started milking and also doing a bit of suckling," recalls Richard.

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The Ballingarrane herd, was among the best known in the with Col Watson's stock from the farm outside Clonmel winning winning scores of rosettes. The herd's man was George Fennell who had previously worked in the RDS.

The heifers were excellent foundation stock to which Richard added the merits of the Deerpark Shorthorn bloodlines with the assistance of his late father who was an AI technician with the nearby Galtee Cattle Breeding Station at Mitchelstown.

The Deerpark herd of the late Michael and Ned Quane, Galbally, Co Limerick was home of the famous 'Deerpark Leader', reputed to have been the best Shorthorn bull in the world. Progeny was purchased by Dr Dick Judy in the 1970s for the first ever live export of Shorthorn breeding stock from Ireland to establish a herd on his Kansas Ranch in the United States.

"I was very fortunate to have got some shorthorn semen from Galtee AI going back to the original Deerpark Leader and I continued to have several generations of the Deerpark bloodlines in the herd because they were great Shorthorns and still breeding some exceptional quality stock," he says.

"I have a bull calf at the moment - five months old - that is by 'Deerpark Improver 34' and he is one of the best calves I have this year.

"It is not good enough to have the animal, but he has the pedigree as well, so I am very excited about him, because he is a truly traditional Shorthorn and I would be hopeful that if he qualifies semen should be collected from him," says Richard.

Replacement Index

As a former Gene Ireland Bull Breeder of the Week, the quality of Richard's herd is being closely monitored and he provides as much data and statistical information as possible, to which he is fully committed.

Gene Ireland's guide on Maternal Breeding states "the herd of over 40 pedigree Beef Shorthorn cows has an overall replacement index of €174 (35pc reliable), making it a five star herd, even when compared against all other beef pedigree females from all the other breeds".

The assessment adds that "one of the best breeding cows in the herd also has the highest rated female in the herd for the 'Replacement Index'.

Her name is 'Knockagarry Primrose 63rd (P)'. She is sired by 'Winalot Rodney' and is out of a homebred dam called 'Knockagarry Primrose 45th' who was sired by 'Aughnashannagh Lorenzo'.

She has a 'Replacement Index' of €245 (42pc) making her a five star cow and actually places her in the top 1pc of the Shorthorn breed for this trait.

She had her first calf at 22 months old in September 2009, has had a calf every year since and has an average calving interval of 342 days".

Gene Ireland singled out docility, honesty, fertility, ability to grade and finish at a young age as the key traits identified in the herd.

"We have some traditional soft fleshing bloodlines here on the farm," says Richard.

"These are being honestly performance tested with and against, progeny of the best pure polled Shorthorn genetics available worldwide,and some commercial Shorthorn crosses.

"It is very important that as many Shorthorn Breeders as possible get involved in the Maternal Bull Breeding programme as this is vital in increasing genetic indexes and reliabilities.

"We must identify the Shorthorn cattle best suited to the requirements of the commercial Irish beef producer on the ground.

"I want to compare the different strains through both on farm performance and genomics. I think we should try to preserve the Irish Shorthorn as I think it can be still relevant to the commercial beef herd," he says.

Richard has no regrets about his decision three decades ago to choose the Shorthorn breed and he is sticking with the breed for the future

"The Shorthorn has worked well for me and once I had them I loved them because of their docility and their honesty as a breed."

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