How these French cattle arrived in Ireland 20 years ago

Kim McCall of Calverstown with two of his 10-month-old Aubrac bulls.
Kim McCall of Calverstown with two of his 10-month-old Aubrac bulls.

Martin Ryan

It was the early 1990s when a number of breeders, mainly from the south of the country travelled to the homeland of the breed in France and subsequently imported the first embryos at a cost of around £800 each.

They were very ably assisted by Mireille McCall, a native of Dijon in the heart of the Burgundy region and now farming in Co Kildare, who used her local knowledge of France to make contact with the Union Aubrac directly and was put in touch with breed technician, Philippe Labarbarrie, who arranged for the Irish delegation to visit the herds.

The first Aubrac animals arrived in Ireland in the late 1990s and the Irish Aubrac Cattle Society council met for the first time at the Hibernian Hotel, Mallow on April 23, 1998. James O’Brien of Dromskehy, Clonbanin, Mallow was elected the first chairman.

Skibbereen farmer Sean O’Driscoll, who is understood to have been the first to successfully breed Irish Aubrac from  imported embryos, was among the founding ‘fathers’ of the breed in Ireland to be honoured for their foresight at the 20th Anniversary celebrations.

The other people who each received commemorative presentations were John Deane, West Cork; Kim McCall, Co Kildare; Finbarr O’Driscoll, Skibbereen (representing his brother Barry); James O’Brien, Mallow; and James Phelan, Abbeyleix.

Kim McCall was elected vice-chairman, and his wife, Mireille, secretary and Herd Book Registrar, a service which she delivered for the following 12 years, before the capable Angela Clancy of Deerpark Farm Service was appointed to the administrative role.

MEP, Mairead McGuinness with Aubrac breeders who have served as chairmen over the past two decades, Ernest Mackey, James Phelan, Liam Walsh, James O'Brien, and James Donnellan.
MEP, Mairead McGuinness with Aubrac breeders who have served as chairmen over the past two decades, Ernest Mackey, James Phelan, Liam Walsh, James O'Brien, and James Donnellan.

Speaking at the event, current chairman James Donnellan thanked the founders and the many others who have assisted with the development of the breed over the years and said that one of the targets is to “see more young people getting involved”.

He welcomed Mary Duggan, Eurogene AI, and said that they are interested in the extension of the AI service for the breed with 180 breeders now listed in this country.

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Aubrac breed of cattle continues to thrive 20 years on

It was another milestone in the history of the spread of the French Aubrac beef breed across Europe when a delegation from Upra Aubrac Union travelled to Ireland to join in the celebration of the 20th anniversary of the establishment of the Irish Herd Book for the breed.

Mathieu Causse, vice-president of the French Breed Union, who led the six-member delegation to the celebrations at the Killeshin Hotel, Portlaoise said how pleased he was to learn of the progress in the growth of the breed in Ireland, as it joins several other EU countries to which the breed has spread over recent years.

"Some of the original imports to your country were bred on my farm in France," he tells me, recalling the visit by the Irish farmers interested in Aubrac two decades ago.

"We are really delighted that the Irish farmers are happy with the Aubrac because they are a very good breed for beef production and very easy to manage. They are very good animals and the breed is continuing to spread in popularity."

He was accompanied by Philippe Labarbarrie, technician, HerdBook Aubrac, and Aubrac breeders, Jean Olivier Laurens, Fabien Veyrac, Yannick Pascal, and Baptiste De La Panouse.

They were welcomed by James Donnellan, chairman of the Irish Aubrac Cattle Society; and the first secretary of the Irish Society and initial importer of the breed Mireille McCall, Kilcullen, Co Kildare and her husband Kim who had travelled to France to make the purchases 20 years ago.

French native Mireille and Kim run the very successful Calverstown Herd of 75 suckler cows and their followers on their 200-acre holding in Co Kildare where performance is the hallmark of the breed.

The statistics, as verified by ICBF, are impressive with a calving interval of 354 days compared to a national average of 399 days, mortality of 2.7pc at 28 days compared to a national average of 6.4pc, heifers calved at 22-26 months at 64pc against the national average of 20pc and average euro value of cows (70) at €132, while the national average is €75.

Guest of Honour at the celebration was MEP Mairead McGuinness who congratulated the society on their achievements to date and assured them that she has no doubt but that they will continue to go from strength to strength.

She said it is clear that the breed's versatility and low maintenance is working for Irish farmers, with 180 herds now in Ireland.

"It takes time and huge dedication to build a successful herd," says McGuinness.

"The Aubrac survived and thrived because of committed breeders of the like of those involved in your organisation, the Irish Aubrac Cattle Breed Society, who brought the breed to Ireland over 20 years ago."

IFA Beef Chairman Angus Woods congratulated the society on their anniversary and thanked them for their assistance over the years.

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