Farm Ireland

Sunday 17 December 2017

Aubracs making waves in the west

Kevin O'Brien hasn't looked back since taking a gamble on the Aubrac breed of cattle, reports Martin Ryan

Kevin O’Brien with his Aubrac herd on the family farm in Turloughmore, Co Galway where he hosted a farm walk for the Irish Aubrac Cattle Breed Society Photo: Ray Ryan
Kevin O’Brien with his Aubrac herd on the family farm in Turloughmore, Co Galway where he hosted a farm walk for the Irish Aubrac Cattle Breed Society Photo: Ray Ryan

HIS first impressions of the breed weren't favourable, but Kevin O'Brien is glad now that he persisted with Aubracs when setting out to establish a new beef herd on the family farm.

"I had talked to a number of farmers who advised me to go for the Aubrac because they were easy calving, but I was not overly impressed when I saw the heifers," recalls the Co Galway breeder about his introduction to the breed in 2011.

He had just returned to farming on the 42 acre family holding at Barnaboy, Turloughmore, after working in construction during the Celtic Tiger years.

Pedigree Belgian Blue had been bred and reared on the farm for the previous 17 years and a Belgian Blue stock bull was used on the commercial herd.

They had proven to be very saleable cattle as weanlings with good export demand and the progeny from the herd had won numerous prizes at the weanling shows and sales.

Despite the strong trade and good prices for the Blues, Kevin was concerned that "not all Belgian Blue calves made it to the mart" because of difficult calvings and associated losses.

After hearing about the Aubrac's easy calving attributes, he travelled to Co Donegal to view an Aubrac heifer.

"I was not overly impressed by the heifers at first," says Kevin.

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"Then I saw some freshly calved Aubrac cows and the calves looked very small, but the farmer showed me his yearling bulls that he had been feeding and I was very impressed" he recalls.

He bought six of the yearling heifers and five years later, he is one of the strongest advocates for the breed in the country having developed the Turloughmore Pedigree Aubrac herd to 22 breeding females.

There are also 13 commercial cows also on the farm.

The last of the Blues are gone and his plan is to continue to build up the Aubrac herd.

"My initial plan was to use those heifers as recipients for Belgian Blue embryos but thankfully after receiving some good advice from the breeder I purchased the heifers from, I decided to breed all heifers with Aubrac AI straws to Despagnou (DPZ)," he said.

"From the calving day on I could see the great suckler traits the Aubracs possess.

"The dams had great mothering ability with plenty of milk. The calves were born small and hardy with the ability to get up and suck within minutes after birth," he explains.

"I wish I had stumbled on the Aubrac breed years earlier. The vet bill is much smaller, no Caesarean sections, easy calvings and less losses. My only losses to date in my Aubrac herd have been two calves, one with pneumonia, and one with a twisted gut", he told those at the Irish Aubrac Cattle Breed Society farm walk last week.

His primary criteria for the beef herd is that "a suckler cow needs to be able to produce a calf per year unassisted, and have enough milk to rear the calf without the use of concentrates, to produce a saleable animal.

He is fully convinced that the breed is ticking all of these boxes.

Male calves, other than those being retained, or sold for breeding, are being finished as young bull beef at 14-15 months - grading E and U, and averaging around 380kg carcase which earns decent money at the factories.

The kill out is impressive with 605kg giving a carcase of 396kg, equivalent to 72lb per c/wt. "They were a barrel of meat," says Kevin.

Of the original six heifers purchased, the first born calf, Turloughmore Harry became the top priced bull at the October 2013 sale at Tullamore, making €3,000. He was the sire of Turloughmore Julius, subsequently sold for €2,600.

Five stars has become the norm for the herd of which three of the cows are now in the top 20 on the ICBF EBI ranking.

"I am now five years breeding Aubracs and looking back, in hindsight, the Aubrac suckler cow to me is probably the best suckler cow out there," says Kevin who is now full-time farming with an additional 27 acres rented. "The Aubrac cow lives on less forage - a suckler farmer with 30 cows could easily carry 40 Aubrac cows on the same amount of land," adds Kevin who plans to increase the herd to 30 cows next year and more later as a committed Aubrac breeder.

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