Farm Ireland

Tuesday 16 January 2018

The story behind the Piemontese bull has moved to the top of the ICBF ratings

A Charolais x cow with her Piemontese calf - the progeny of Kilree Leo
A Charolais x cow with her Piemontese calf - the progeny of Kilree Leo

Martin Ryan

There was no one more surprised than Michael O'Keeffe when he heard that Kilree Leo had moved to the top of the ICBF listing of young beef bulls on test over recent months, with demand for straws topping all of the more popular breeds in the country on the index.

Leo was bred by his late father, Richard O'Keeffe, before he passed away just over two years ago, and Michael has no doubt that it would have been very gratifying for him, if he had been spared to see the day that a bull from his Piemontese herd achieved such prominence.

Home-bred on the family 70ac - farm at Kells, Kilree, Co Kilkenny out of the herd dam, Kilree Irene, and by the stock bull on the farm, Kilree Gringo - he will be three years old later this week.

The first of his calves, which have been born on farms during 2016, have been very promising, and their evaluation has had a big influence on the ICBF ranking for the bull.

Kilree Leo is a five-star bull with a replacement index of €128 at 42pc reliability on his latest genomic proof under ICBF which was issued last week, and has been increased by 28pc since he was first listed in the Gene Ireland catalogue 12 months ago.

The beef breed was first imported into this country in the 1980s from the region of Piedmont in northern Italy. In recent years, there has been considerable growth in popularity with a doubling in society membership and over 320 purebred Piemontese imported by breeders.

Beef from the Piemontese is so highly regarded in Italy that it is known as the "Queen of Beef" and there is always a shortfall in supply and a ready market for exports both in beef and on the hoof.

The light-boned breed, it has a fine elastic skin and a low quantity of fat in the carcase. It is described as "lean and tasty meat that is also very tender" thanks to a double quantity of the myostatin gene in the breed.

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The main characteristics of the breed are that they are not only double muscled animals, but are easily calved and claiquickly produce an excellent kill out of the super-lean but tender beef.

The Piemontese Society claims very good feed ­conversion and a kill-out of 70pc, reducing carcass wastage to a minimum.

It was mainly sheep on the Kilree farm until the arrival of the Piemontese around a decade ago.

Michael recalls that his late father, Richard, was "on a trip over to Italy with the society buying cattle, and he brought six of them home with him and went on from there to build up the herd" to the present stocking of 20 breeding cows, the only bovines running alongside the sheep on the farm.

"I am not sure if he intended to buy them when he went to Italy, or just liked what he saw, because I was quite young when we got them," said Michael.

Richard's widow, Jane, has continued to run the herd with the assistance of 23-year-old Michael, who admits that he is "very interested in farming" and hopes to continue breeding the Piemontese on the farm. He has a steady market for all of the progeny from the herd which are exported, and is "quite happy" with the returns.

Indeed, he maintains that there is demand for all the calves the herd can produce.

A new stock bull, Castle Quarter Large, has recently been purchased, and they hope that the first bull from the herd to have been selected by ICBF is the beginning of a new era for the Kilree Piemontese.

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