Beef potential of the Charolais cattle left deep impressions from the start

Vet's first glimpse led to a lifelong commitment to breed

Brendan McFeely receiving the 2015 Irish Charolais Cattle Society scroll of honour from Minister of State, Michael Ring TD.
Brendan McFeely receiving the 2015 Irish Charolais Cattle Society scroll of honour from Minister of State, Michael Ring TD.

Martin Ryan

From the earliest imports of the breed into this country, half a century ago, the characteristics and beef potential of the Charolais impressed Brendan McFeely.

Fast-forward a couple of decades and he continues to admire the continental breed as the 'best' beef breed to this day.

As a young veterinary surgeon, working in North Co Dublin, after qualifying from veterinary college in 1962, one of his clients was well known Meath livestock farmer, John Mooney, one of the original importers of the Charolais breed into Ireland. "The Charolais impressed me from the first time I saw them on John's farm.

"At that time we were used to Hereford, Angus and the Shorthorn getting up to 12 to 14 cwt (lw) at best, but the Charolais was capable of reaching a tonne or up to a tonne and a half and I was very impressed by their potential as beef animals," he says.

It was the start of a lifelong commitment and contribution to the Charolais breed which has been recognised by the lrish Charolais Cattle Society nominating Brendan for the prestigious 2015 ­National Hall of Fame which will stand proudly beside the memorabilia from his career as a footballer winning five senior county medals and during eight years of service to Donegal captaining the county to Lagan Cup glory in 1964 and the Dr McKenna cup in 1965.

Brendan had inherited a love and an appreciation for quality cattle from his father, Edward McFeely, a farmer and shipper.

It was not long after his first sighting of the Charolais breed that he purchased his first pedigree stock bull from John Mooney to run with his ­commercial suckler herd back in Donegal and his first pedigree females from Seamus Kelly, Edenmore, in 1979 to established the 'DaisyhilI' ­Pedigree Charolais Herd at Glencar, Letterkenny where he built a herd of up to 40 suckler cows.

The best know was a wonderful show cow, 'Daisyhill Ruby' winner of many championships at agricultural shows throughout the North West and retired unbeaten in the show ring after five seasons on the circuit. He recalls that the Charolais increased greatly in numbers in the North West very quickly because Sligo AI centre showed a lot of interest in the breed "and there was great demand from beef farmers for the calves from the dairy herds".

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"Back in the seventies beef was going into intervention and the Charolais cattle with the weight they were capable of being turned into big money for the beef farmers.

The dairy farmers liked the Charolais calf because they were in demand from beef farmers but they wanted him to arrive nice and easily," he said.

"There was problems with calvings in the dairy herds - and there was no Caesareans being done at that time - but people worked on the calving traits and after a few years the easy calving sires were identified", he added.

"The other good thing about the Charolais is that they were easily identified in the crossings because they always brought some of the colour with them There was never a question that they were Charolais," recalled Brendan. He is a founding member of the Donegal Charolais Club and served as its chairman for many years and became president of the Irish Veterinary Union in 1975.

Brendan became president of the Irish Veterinary Union in 1975 and played a key role with NFA leader, T J Maher, in resolving the protracted veterinary dispute with the Department of Agriculture.

First elected to the Charolais Council in February 1982 he was elected Charolais President in March 1986 and re-elected again in April 1987 during a 15-year term as council member.

At the same time he continued to manage his Charolais herd - before passing on to the capable hands of his son, Brendan jnr to maintain the Daisyhill tradition - while running a busy large and small animal veterinary practice from his Letterkenny base, which he believes would have been difficult without the unwavering support of his wife Christina.

On the future for the breed he says: "There are some great Charolais in the country that can be got into great weight at a young age and to me they are definitely still the best beef breed."

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