Farm Ireland

Tuesday 16 January 2018

Profit is the name of the game for Mayo's Connemara scheme

Marketing plan by western breeder discussion group aims to secure higher foal prices at sale

Caitriona Murphy

Caitriona Murphy

Connemara breeders aiming to secure a premium price for their foals have come up with a new initiative, which they hope will result in higher prices.

The West Mayo Equine Group has introduced a special scheme to ensure that foals offered for sale by its breeders are a step ahead of other foals at the upcoming Connemara sales at Clifden.

The initiative is quite similar to the Suckler Cow Welfare Scheme operated by the Department of Agriculture. However, the reward for breeders taking part will not be a direct payment from the Government but, hopefully, a higher price from buyers.

To take part, each foal must be weaned 3-4 weeks and eating creep meal for 6-8 weeks prior to the October sale, so that the foals are eating around 1lb of meal by the time they are sold. In addition, the foals are wormed, vaccinated, registered and microchipped. The foals have also been attended to by a farrier prior to sale.

Handling the foal has been an integral part of the initiative, with foals being halter trained and led for the past number of months. The most recent training sessions for the group have involved foals only, requiring that the dams be left at home. This has ensured that the weaning process has been a gradual one.

Teagasc adviser John Noonan has acted as facilitator for the West Mayo Equine Group since it was first set up in 2008.

"The group has been going extremely well since we first got going," he says. "We have expanded to 40-45 members."

The group consists of breeders, producers and riders, with a mix of Connemara, Irish Sport Horse and Irish Draught enthusiasts involved. Memberships of the group costs €50 a year.

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LEADER funding has been accessed to help with training costs and the group meets 6-8 times a year for training sessions.

So far, the training has included lectures and practical sessions on breeding management, leg conformation, foaling procedures, vaccinations and nutrition among others.

One of the group's biggest achievements to date has been the construction of a communal scanning unit at Islandeady, which is available for use by any paid-up group member.

"The scanning unit is located between Westport and Castlebar and has given us a venue where our breeders can bring their mares to be scanned," says John. "This has helped to improve breeding management, handling of ponies and there is also a social aspect to it."

Group secretary Maureen McGing says the communal scanning unit has resulted in savings, both financial and time-wise, for breeders.

"Some of our breeders had been travelling long distances to the vet for scanning and this is much more convenient," she said. "A lot of our members might not have help at home either, so strong friendships have formed as breeders help each other out."

The idea for a weaning initiative came about earlier this year, when the group assessed the quality of the foals on the ground and decided to maximise their value.

"We decided to contact Connemara Pony Sales in Clifden and ask them to get involved with us," recalls John.

"We explained that we were working towards what customers wanted and if they would support us in any way.

"Padraig Heanue was very enthusiastic and offered us a full page in the catalogue and a slot at 2pm on the Sunday sale in which the group's foals could be offered for sale."

"The group explained that they move away from the practice of taking foals off their mothers on the morning of the sale," recalls Padraig.

"I thought it was a fantastic idea as it would reduced the stress involved. Hopefully it will also attract more customers, who would be guaranteed that their foal would not suffer the same set back as a foal weaned on the morning of the sale."

Having the foals weaned, eating meal, dosed and vaccinated will reduce the incidence of pneumonia and other health disorders among the foals after sale and transport to their new homes.

"We are hoping that it will also raise the bar among other breeders," Padraig added.

A new record has been set for the October sale, with 1,410 Connemara ponies for sale from Thursday, October 27, to Monday, October 31.

The sale opens on Thursday with a selection of 329 geldings, colts (yearling and upwards), stallions and ridden ponies. Friday's sale contains 253 fillies (yearling and upwards) and mares, while the remaining three days (Saturday to Monday) is broodmares and foals only.

The West Mayo Equine Groups' 30 foals will be penned together and highlighted as they are sold one after the other from 2pm on Sunday.

Group secretary Maureen has high hopes for the sale and believes this is just the starting block for an improved mare and foal production system.

"I'd love to see something similar put in place for older and ridden stock," she says. "Yearlings and two-year-olds are harder to shift but if we had a scheme in place to ensure all our youngstock was well handled, we might secure sales quicker.

"The main message from our group is that we are treating our breeding as a business and aiming to produce what the customer wants," adds John.

For more information on the West Mayo Equine Group, go to and for information and a catalogue for the upcoming October Connemara sale at Clifden, go to or contact 095 21861.

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