Last year, Sally Ann Grassick bought two in-calf pedigree Aubrac heifers to graze among her horses and help with mixed grazing on the farm.
The ITV horse-racing presenter and thoroughbred horse breeder keeps her cattle on her boyfriend Mark Hanly’s family stud farm, Grange Hill Stud in Nenagh, Tipperary.
“Mark breeds thoroughbred horses too and keeps around 100 head of drystock cattle,” she says.
“Mixed grazing is so important in thoroughbreds because they’re so fussy with what they eat, so the cattle are needed to clean up the ground.”
After researching the French breed, Sally Ann discovered they’re a hardy breed of cattle and are useful for cleaning up ground.
“Aubracs are mountain cattle so they eat things the bullocks won’t eat and they clean up the ground for the horses.
“They’re also quite light on their feet so they don’t make a big mess and they need very little to do well.
“We’ve a rough part on the farm where we can’t put thoroughbreds and that’s where the Aubracs stayed all winter, they were thriving too well on the paddocks.”
When choosing a breed to buy, Sally Ann says she wanted something long term and something that wouldn’t end up in the factory. She wanted to get the equivalent of the best thoroughbred brood mares in racing.
“I didn’t want to be breeding something that was only going to the factory, I wanted to be breeding something for the future.
“A lot of dairy farmers are now buying Aubrac bulls to cross with their heifers, they’ve such a good temperament and they’re easy calvers and that’s kind of what swung it for me. I travel quite a bit for work and both the Aubracs calved on their own while I was at Cheltenham, they’re both bulls so I will sell them on for breeding. If they were heifers, I would have kept them to breed from next year.”
Sally Ann AI’d her two Aubracs last week after getting straws imported from France through the Aubrac Society.
“I sent the profiles of the two cows to the Aubrac Society and their breeding experts suggested a couple of bulls. They’ll be calving next year and I’ll be hoping for heifers this time.”
The end of June and beginning of July tend to be quiet times on the farm for Sally Ann so she’s spending the time getting jobs done on the farm that she usually wouldn’t have time to do.
“This has been the month where we get projects done around the farm like sanitising the stables, topping the fields and checking the fencing.
“Breeding season is over [for the horses and cows] and weaning hasn’t yet started.
“It’s all about maintenance work at the moment. The yearling fouls will be soon coming in, around the end of July, to start their training and prepare for the sales.”
Work wise, it’s far from quiet for Sally Ann as she’s in the UK this week at the Tattersalls horse sales in Newmarket and working with ITV.
Sally Ann says her interest in cattle stems back to her childhood and after going on a working holiday to a cattle ranch in the US, she knew for sure she wanted to have her own calf. While she was there, she followed the cowboys, doing the work they did on the ranch and has been travelling over twice yearly to work there since.
“I do the round-up in the autumn on horseback and the wrestling of the calves for the brandings in the spring, I’ve got really involved. I even bought a few Angus cows with friends over there and keep them on the ranch. It’s all Red and Black Angus there.”
Sally Ann’s work on the ranch includes riding the new horses and getting them ready for guests (as it’s a guest farm).
“Working with cattle became a real passion, I just love it and I knew it was something I wanted to continue at home.
“I’ve always, from I was a kid, had a love for cattle anyway. My dad would have said I used to torment the cattle we had for mixed grazing — I used to chase them with my Connemara pony and my dog, they were the fittest cattle you’d ever meet.
“My grandfather Christy Grassick trained in the Phoenix Park and my late dad, Brian, who was a bloodstock agent, set up my family stud farm.”
The stud farm, Newtown Stud, ran between Sally Ann, her mother Sheila and sister Cathy, keeps 50-60 horses and foals a lot of mares for others.