The sceptics told John Lanigan he was on a loser when he began breeding Red Angus cattle 20 years ago, but his persistence has paid off and two bulls from the herd are now listed in the top 20 of the ICBF’s Active Bull List.
AS they graze on fresh spring pasture in the bright April sunshine on John Lanigan’s farm close to the Kilkenny-Tipperary border, his Red Angus herd is oblivious to having a special niche for the breed in this country.
More than two decades ago, after an exhaustive search through Canadian sources, John tracked down the gene for the Red Angus deep into the United Stated, only to be advised that “they are a flash in the pan (that) were never going to get anywhere”.
Fast forward 20 years and the offspring of Lanigan Red Grand Canyon and his son, Lanigan Red Mikado, are much sought after by breeders who are willing to pay a premium of €500/head to get the breeding bulls.
John’s Red Angus herd on the farm at Longfordpass South, outside Urlingford, look destined for an exceptional future.
Two of his home-bred Red Angus bulls have been listed by ICBF in the top 20 recommended bulls in the ICBF Beef Active Bull List on Replacement Index Ranking released earlier this month — a first for Red Angus.
And while Red Angus is a rare breed in this part of the world, worldwide they make an increasing percentage of Angus numbers, particularly in Canada and Australia.
John’s is one of the few Registered Pedigree Red Angus herd in Ireland and while the size of his breeding herd has been halved from around 30 cows to make way for a large dairy enterprise on the farm, he remains committed to the ‘reds’.
His initial interest in the breed was driven by his interest in finding short gestation breeding genes and this led him to the Grand Canyon Red Angus bloodlines.
“I started chasing down the short gestation breeding before anybody was interested in it and when I brought in the Red Angus [other pedigree breeders] were all saying that they were a flash in the pan and that they were never going to get anywhere,” he recalls.
“In the late 1990s I started looking for them and found it fairly hard to get them at the time. I got a red heifer from Michael Smith’s Bagatelle Herd in Cootehill, but they were very rare at that time
“I was interested in the reds for their maternal traits as well, not just the colour. That led me to the Red Angus in Canada and Australia because I was also looking for milk and docility — traits that I felt were not as strong in the Irish Angus.
“I became aware of Deep Canyon in the US which I was interested in breeding stock from, but it proved to be a bit of job getting the straws into Canada where I knew Terry Knodel who I had imported straws from,” he explains.
He brought in 20 embryos in two batches in the late 1990s and the first calves were born in 2001.
He was successful in getting seven embryos in the batch that bred as Deep Canyon. The genetic records show that all the highest maternal index bulls in Canada had his pedigree in them.
John says that the Deep Canyon gene bulls and their sons are still at the top in Canada and nothing has surpassed them to date, so he is not surprised that they have turned up so well here.
Limousin cross and Friesian heifers were used as the carriers for the imported embryos, which are believed to have been the first of the Red Angus embryo’s imported into this country.
Sheep and beef were the dominant enterprises on John’s farm at a time when he faced the challenge of two depopulations within 18 months due to Brucellosis and a case of BSE in an older cow which had been brought into the herd.
Undeterred, he then decided to buy 100 Limousin heifers and got them conditioned and engaged the services of breeding specialist, Dan Ryan to select the most suitable for the embryo transfers.
Eleven calves were born from the batch of 20 imported embryos. “If I done it again I doubt if I would get it as good again,” says John.
His initial decision to source the Red Angus was based on his desire for better productivity from the beef enterprise then run alongside the sheep on the farm.
“I was keeping Blondes and their average was 296 days gestation while the Angus were around 270 days so there was an average of at least 20 days longer. I had some Blondes that went to 317 and 318 days and still had light calves.
“I felt that my Blondes were taking too long and they were never going to catch up on the calf that was born up to a month earlier.”
Over the years, he built up his Pedigree Angus Herd to around 30 cows, mostly Red Angus.
The two ICBF top 20-listed bulls from the herd are Lanigan Red Deep Canyon ET, bred from an imported embryo, and his son, Lanigan Red Mikado.
“Mikado was line bred to the original Deep Canyon. Mikado has some of Grand Canyon twice in his genes on both his sire and dam,” says John.
“Mikado’s sire was the highest rated bull in the country at the time and the mother , Holly, was the highest rated dam with a little bit of Canyon on both sides, but it has not done any hard. He is a lovely bull and breeding very docile progeny.”
The original Lanigan Red Deep Canyon, born in 2007, was a stock bull on the farm and later sold on.
“He was amazing on his feet, although he was a pure tank of a bull and weighed 1.3t at one stage,” recalls John.
“I find that the newly-born calves are no bother to change to a bottle if they are by a bull that is quiet and that is where I like calves by Mikado.
“I believe that there is a link between the docility of the bull and the ease of handling with the calves even at a few days old.”
A lifelong farmer, John was only eight when his father died and some time later his mother became incapacitated and needed constant care.
He says he had no hesitation turning to farming when he finished secondary school because he “loved” farming and had invested in his first livestock, some sheep, at the age of 11.
He was 18 when the milk quotas came in and this locked him out of milk production until 2014.
A new dairy infrastructure, including two robots, has now been developed on the farm to handle a Holstein-Friesian Herd of more than 100 cows.
This has replaced the sheep and commercial beef on the 200-acre enterprise which includes some rented land and also has a sizeable block of forestry.
The first births of Red Angus in John Lanigan’s Herd had to be registered in the Scottish Herd Book before they were accepted into the Herd Book of the Irish Angus Association.
They qualify for full accreditation and have now won favour over the Black Angus with some breeders.
“The beef farmers in particular like the Red Angus, because they have Limousin and Simmental and Charolais and if they use a Red Angus bull they will have very nice coloured calves,” says John.
“I am getting a premium of at least €500 for the Red Angus bulls over the Black from commercial breeders, a mix of dairy men using for crossing and from commercial suckler breeders. I have a number of regular customers for the Red Angus bulls and they keep coming back for them.”
The Angus breed, is believed to have been to Britain and Ireland by the Vikings.
In 1920, the University of Wisconsin Agricultural Experiment Station published a study on ‘The Occurrence of Red Calves in Black Breeds of Cattle’ which contained the following observation.
“One more point should be emphasised, namely that the red individuals appearing in such stock (Aberdeen Angus) are just as truly ‘purebred’ as their black relatives, and there is no reason why, in all respects save colour, they should not be fully as valuable.”
And when the first Aberdeen Angus Herdbook was created in 1862 in Scotland, although black was the predominant colour, reds were registered without discrimination.
The Angus breed was taken from there to America and increased in popularity.
In 1917 it was decided that to assure a pure black strain, reds and other colours would not be allowed to register.
This bias towards the black Angus inspired cattlemen, who favoured the reds’ qualities, start selecting the best red calves from the black Angus.
In 1954 a new herdbook and association specifically for the reds was established.
Fertility & longevity
Red Angus females reach puberty at a young age, are highly fertile and are renowned for their longevity.
Red Angus females have excellent milk production and have a strong maternal instinct.
The breed is considered to be gentle natured and easy to work.
And the Red Angus has also become noted for producing a highly desired carcase with the meat being of excellent quality, due to the intra-muscular marbling.