'Salers are trouble-free to manage and that suits me as a part-time farmer'
Co Sligo man David Kirrane has not regretted establishing a breeding herd at his holding
Using a Salers bull on his mixed breed continental suckler herd convinced David Kirrane of the way to go when he decided to upgrade to pedigree.
From a traditional dairy farm where Friesians were the dominant breed up to the 1990s, the Co Sligo holding had undergone a transition to mixed continentals - Charolais, Limousin, and Belgian Blue - as a suckler herd through the later years of the decade.
When he decided to establish a pedigree breeding herd on the farm at Carrentubber, Tubbercurry after the turn of the century, the experience gained in crossing with a Salers bull convinced him in favour of the Salers.
A decade and a half later his decision has been vindicated by success beyond his expectation on ease of management, breed performance, and demand for the progeny.
When ICBF placed Carrentubber Pinocchio the number one sire on the 2018 Gene Ireland Beef Sire ranking, it was recognition beyond expectation for the herd. The bull, born into the herd on February 21, 2015, was by the French sire, Doudou, and out of the home-bred dam, Carrentubber Grainne.
Pinocchio is a five-star across all breeds with a Replacement Index of €161. His progeny is predicted to be five-star for both carcass weight gain and confirmation at reliability of 63pc and 56pc respectively, plus 21kg extra beef delivered.
Topping the listing, with Shorthorn, Limousin, Charolais, Angus, Simmental and Piedmontese among the top 10, is exceptional for a minority breed like Salers. However, the selection appears to be fully vindicated with a strong demand for straws.
David, who is part-time farming with a pedigree breeding herd of 20 cows, has bred the herd for quality using mainly French genetics through AI, which is paying off.
Carrentubber Norway, the champion of the annual Salers Show in 2014 - "a very nice clean shape bull" - went to a farm in Longford, while Carrentubber Pedro, show prizewinner in 2015, was purchased by a breeder in Sligo and both are still being used for breeding.
Before deciding to go full pedigree with the herd in 2003, David was very impressed by the performance of Salers bulls used on his commercial herd.
"The ease of calving and trouble-free management of the breed was very suitable to me being part-time in farming," he said.
"I can work away from the farm and know that if a cow is calving that she will be all right, which means a lot, because she will generally calve on her own and the calf will be up and feeding by the time that I get home in the evening," he added.
"I haven't had to assist at a calving now in a good many years. I have a calving jack but I haven't had to use it. It makes an awful difference because it is less pressure on the cow and less pressure on the farmer."
Initially, David purchased a Salers pedigree heifer in this country, and proceeded to import a number of heifers from France, the home-base of the rugged breed, gradually building up the herd.
Up to 70pc of the bull calves are sold for breeding and heifers are either retained for herd replacement or sold on to other herd owners for breeding.
"There is huge demand for the Salers for breeding," David said. "The breeders can't get enough of them at present. The supply is generally not enough to meet the demand from both pedigree and commercial breeders who are crossing with some of the continental breeds, which is working out very well for them."
The Salers generally have a big pelvis and many of the farmers that have purchased heifers and put them in calf to Charolais have had no calving problems, with the Charolais adding an extra bit of vigour to the calf.
Others are purchasing the Salers females to breed from to build up their numbers in pedigree herds.
"The majority of the farmers that are buying heifers from me are commercially buying them for crossing. They'd have a Charolais bull at home, or use an easy calving AI bull for the first year and see how they get on and it is working very well for them," said David.
On the first crossing they are getting the maximum hybrid vigour on them, but as they go down the line, they will lose a bit of the vigour.
David finds that all of the progeny thrive very well. They achieve 1.2-1.3kg/day and with a bit of meal get into good weights very easily
"A lot of farmers are very anxious to move away from the hard calving continental breeds, because they are having too many difficulties at calving. The cows are not able to calve them and more suckler farmers are only part-time; it is putting more pressure on the need for easy calving," David said.
"Every year I'm getting more farmers looking for Salers because of the easy calving. They are getting tired of cows going over their calving date and producing big calves that are causing difficulties and they are anxious to get away from that," he added.
He is planning to go down the line of polled Salers and will probably do that - however, the blood lines for the polled are tight and he reckons it is going to take a bit of time.
"I have bought one heifer from Scotland that is polled and I will be going down the route now of breeding polled because I think that is going to be the market in the future," he said.
"I am more or less where I am going to stay in my own herd size, but I will be working on the introduction of the polled Salers. That is something I would like to do and the route that I will go down until about a third of the herd is polled," he added.
David said that the number of breeders in Ireland is growing all the time.
When he started with the Salers, there were two or three bulls available in AI and today Progressive Genetics has 11 Salers, while the other AI centres all have Salers bulls with a big selection available. He is not surprised by the strong demand for straws from Pinocchio because "a lot of breeders want to use him for the easy calving and the reports so far are very good".
Jovial history of Salers in Irish herds
The first imports of the Salers to Ireland was in 1974 when Dovea AI, under the management of the late Jack Wolohan, imported two bulls. One of the bulls proved to be infertile, but the other, Javelin, became popular with suckler farmers.
A short time later, Munster AI purchased a Salers bull, Jovial, which became the sire of many successful progeny, the bloodlines of which are still highly regarded in Irish herds.
It is understood that the first Salers herd in southern Ireland was established on a Donegal farm.
The Irish breeders formed the The Salers Cattle Society of Ireland in 1997 and the Irish Herd Book was opened in January 2000, prior to which the Irish bred animals were being registered in the UK Herd Book.
David Kirrane has served on the National Council of the Irish Society and has also held office as vice-chairman and chairman during the past decade.
There are more than 200 Purebred Salers pedigree herds in the country with in excess of 3,000 registered pedigree cows.
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