Farm Ireland

Monday 26 February 2018

How this woman became one of the most successful cattle breeders in the country without an acre of owned land


Sheila Cronin from Scartaglen alongside Carmel Kelly of Rathvilly after receiving their National Hall of Fame Awards at the Sheraton Hotel in Athlone
Sheila Cronin from Scartaglen alongside Carmel Kelly of Rathvilly after receiving their National Hall of Fame Awards at the Sheraton Hotel in Athlone

Martin Ryan

Milking cows by hand, feeding calves and making home-churned butter from the surplus milk are still cherished memories for Carmel Kelly of the origin of the Ricketstown Pedigree Shorthorn herd... one of the most successful in the country without an acre of owned land.

Thirty five years ago, the first dairy shorthorn heifer was purchased to form the herd at Rathvilly, Co Carlow. Today, the Ricketstown Pedigree Shorthorn herd has been converted to suckling for beef production in the care of her son, Martin, with 50 head being run on 30 acres of rented land, while Carmel's long association with the traditional Irish breed of livestock continues to earn deserved honour.

She was presented with the Irish Shorthorn Cattle Society National Hall of Fame Award 2017 by GAA President, Aogan O'Fearghail, at the awards ceremony at the Sheraton Hotel, Athlone, which brought back many memories of the Ricketstown herd.

She recalled that the first Dairy Shorthorn heifer was purchased at the dispersal sale of the Moyglare Herd, where her late father, John Farrell, was manager, and the second heifer was purchased from the Ballingarrane Herd the same year.

"We built our herd from these two animals - we milked and fed the calves and made butter with the surplus milk. My Dad, John Farrell, was so proud of us for carrying on where he left off after his retirement on the day of the Moyglare sale," she recalled.

"The RDS Spring Show was the highlight of every year for myself and my three sisters. The competition was very strong - the competitors were Ballingarrane, Friarstown, Glounlea, Nohoval, Cloughdubh, Kilfrush, Fruitfield, Carrowhubbock, Ransboro, Ballyart, Moatfield, Grousehall, Tournant and Loughlinstown, the herd my Dad managed."

In 1983, a year after the herd was founded, the Ricketstown Shorthorns won their first RDS Spring Show rosette, but 1988 became one of the most amazing years ever experienced by a shorthorn herd in the country, winning all the major prizes for the breed at the RDS Spring Show, which included all of the cups in the Shorthorn section, for Best Pair of heifers, Best Female Champion, Best Group and Overall Champion of the Show - the only time it was ever achieved by the same shorthorn herd.

In the early 2000s, four beef shorthorn heifers were imported from the Croxton Park Herd and a stock bull from the Glenariff Herd in the UK.

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These were key imports to help build up the quality of the present day pedigree beef shorthorn herd.

The management baton has now been passed on to Carmel's son, Martin - an enthusiastic young man, who has already demonstrated his ambition to continue the herd record, having produced a prizewinning bull at Sterling in Scotland to sell for €6,500.

Awards won by the herd over the years include seven times female champion at the RDS and seven times Tullamore champion, the only herd to win both dairy and beef at the National Livestock Show at Tullamore and top awards at the Cork show six years in a row.

Carmel has served as chairperson and secretary of the Irish Shorthorn Association and was a founding member of the South Eastern Shorthorn Breeders Club, where she served as secretary.

Meanwhile, founder members of the Munster Branch of the Irish Angus Cattle Society, Michael and Sheila Cronin, have been honoured with the society nomination for the breed Hall of Fame Award 2017, which was presented to them at the National Ceremony at the Sheraton Hotel, Athlone.

Since the establishment of the branch in 1990, the membership has grown from 60 to more than 400, including their own Carter Pedigree Irish Angus herd at Scartaglen, Killarney, which has bred many notable show winners over the years.

In 2012, Michael was elected National Vice President of the Society and served as President in 2014 and 2015, a period which included the celebration of the Silver Jubilee of the Munster Branch in October 2015.

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