Wicklow's 'priceless' cow - Leading French breeders looking to a prolific Dunlavin cow to save Aubrac bloodline
Grazing contentedly in the autumn sunshine, within Paul Grace's Pedigree Aubrac herd in Co Wicklow, Nolorgue Papine is undoubtedly oblivious that she has become an international celebrity within the Aubrac breed.
Next year she will celebrate her 20th birthday, but the highly productive cow, which has continued to give birth to a calf each year, is not set for retirement any time soon, such is the interest which she is now generating across the globe.
Of even greater importance to the breed than her longevity, she has now been identified as the last surviving female of a highly valued gene line within the breed in France.
So valued has her gene line become, that Nolorgue Papine is now to be flushed for the first time, in a drive to multiply her offspring and ensure continuity of her breeding line into the future.
"There is huge interest in her among the breeders in France and they have encouraged me to flush her this year," explained Paul Grace, who farms at Uppertown, Dunlavin keeping a small herd of Aubrac.
Nolorgue Papine is now believed to be the last remaining daughter alive in the world today by the legendary bull, E Ratier Duches.
"He was the sire of Goeland amongst others. An absolutely fantastic pedigree, which is why some of the French breeders have now asked me not to put Nolorgue Papine in-calf again and try and flush her. It seems that she has become a priceless cow," said Paul.
Such is the interest in Nolorgue Papine in Paul's herd that some of the French breeders flew over to see her on the Co Wicklow farm and want to secure the continuation of her breeding line.
The sire, E Ratier Duches was born in January 1985 and has been rated five star for replacement across all breeds in his euro star index.
Paul has become a committed Aubrac breeder impressed by the versatility, performance and easy calving which the breed has delivered on his farm.
"We tried every breed that you can think about and the one that came out on top for us was the Aubrac. That had everything that we were looking for. Within four or five years we sold everything else that we had and never regretted going all Aubrac," said Paul.
"We were looking for an animal that could maintain itself and mind itself with no trouble calving. The calves are relatively small when they are born but they thrive rapidly and make great stock," he added.
Around 1996 he started using an Aubrac sire on dairy animals and very quickly recognised that they were the breed that he sought.
Some of his originals of the breed were purchased from Kildare breeder Kim McCall, of the Calverstown herd, who together with his French-born wife, Mireille, honorary secretary of the Irish Aubrac Breed Society, were among the original importers of the breed into Ireland.
"He gave me great confidence and a lot of advice and I bought two heifers from him and went back and bought more from him later," said Paul.
His 'Dreylands' pedigree Aubrac herd was founded in 1998, coinciding with the founding of the Irish Aubrac Cattle Breed Society Limited and now consists of ten breeding pedigree cows.
"We are concentrating on producing easy calving bulls from dam lines with plenty of milk with a good R grade cow capable of calving and rearing an U/E grade calf while maintaining small birthweight so bulls can be used on dairy cows and heifers with confidence of no calving problems," explains Paul.
His 'Dreylands' herd has been built concentrating on breed lines from two herds in France, the famous Nolorgue herd, and the Causse Herd. Both herds have contributed hugely to the make up of the Dreylands herd as it stands today.
"The current herd sire is a son of Everest who was Paris Show Champion on three occasions, and his dam is a daughter of Narbon, who also won at the Paris Show three times. The Grandam is a sister to Rapine, being by the same sire, E Ratier Duches, as Nolorgue Papine.
"These animals were all in the Nolorgue herd. She (Nolorgue Papine) was purchased from the Nolorgue herd, and remains a firm favourite of the family Nolorgue," says Paul.
"Last year I went to France and bought some of Nolorgue Papine sister's family so my whole herd is now the same breeding," he added.
While still a minority beef breed in Ireland, the Aubrac pedigree breeding herd has been increasing in recent years and currently numbers around 750 pedigree breeding cows mostly owned by part-time farmers aiming for the benefit of easy calving coupled with good beefing qualities.
The first animals were brought into Skibbereen from the UK as embryos (1 heifer - 2 bulls) in 1992. Straws were taken from the best bull and used on dairy and suckler cows, mostly in the West Cork region. The first shipment of in-calf and maiden heifers arrived from France in County Kildare in the autumn of 1996.
The statistics for the breed - 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.
The society believes Aubracs have a place in Ireland as an easy kept mother breed with continental conformation and good temperament.
They stress that the bulls are well suited to produce excellent replacement heifers for the Irish suckler herd producing weanling bulls with shape and quality which are much sought after by Italian finishers.
"The Aubrac can be out-performed on any given trait by another breed but as a complete package is hard to beat," the society claims.
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