Decades of meticulous breeding sees Meath man win Suffolk flock of the year award
Eamonn Duffy's success as a pedigree Suffolk breeder over the past three decades is testament to his commitment to the breed and his meticulous approach to building his Kells flock into the best in the land.
When Eamonn and his wife, Ann Marie were presented with the Suffolk Flock of the Year 2017 at the Open Day on their farm at Ethelstown, Kells, Co Meath it was the culmination of much hard work and selective breeding over the years.
Eamonn started his pedigree flock 37 years ago with the purchase of 10 breeding ewes from a top flock in Co Roscommon. Ever since he has adhered to a policy of selecting only the best stock for breeding.
"I felt all of the time that the only way to go was to stick with selection of the best breeding stock that I could get, which is what I did," he says.
"I wanted to see improvement in the flock every year, and that was the only way to go."
The Kells flock comprises 130 head, which impressed breeders who turned out for the open day because they understood how difficult it is to achieve consistently high standards across of a flock of that size.
That high standard is down to Eamonn's strict selection and culling criteria which has helped him establish the largest pedigree Suffolk flock in Ireland or the UK.
Second best was never going to be good enough for Eamonn and Ann Marie when it came to what they wanted to achieve with their pedigree Suffolk flock.
"We were trying to breed the tops all of the time and seeing how they came up - our target was to breed a perfect flock of sheep," says Eamonn.
"We kept buying in from the top flocks all of the time to get the top rams that bred good long lambs, that were easily fleshed and with good tight wool all over the years.
"We bought in a lot of home bred rams over the years from some of the top flocks here and got some very good sheep from Eric Stanley's flock in Co Laois," he adds
He is committed to the purchase of breeding stock from the top flocks both in Ireland and Scotland. "I was always comparing them against our own and it gave me an indication of where we were at with our own sheep," he says.
"We found that the Lamb Plus was brilliant because if there was anything like difficult lambing or slow to finish, whatever the problem is, we could pick out the breeding ewes and cull them from the flock and that helped us enormously to improve the flock. It is the only way to get a flock to the top."
Standout sires include Glenho Pajero, bought in 2003, that put length into the females. Errigal Dundee, the Novice Champion at the 2010 Roscrea Show, added height, power and colour. Limestone Tom and Limestone Mr Muscle - both sons of Muirton One Direction that cost £19,000gns in 2014 - proved excellent for breeding long easy-fleshed lambs with good carcase, skin, style and colour.
"Our plan is to keep the Suffolk up at the top on the star ratings for both Maternal and Replacement indices and the right Suffolk can do both," says Eamonn.
The proof of his success in this regard is over 60pc of the Kells flock rates double five star on the indices, a rare achievement for a flock of this scale.
"We select 25-30 of the top ewe lambs every year and they are retained in the flock. They kept bringing the standard of the flock up and up all of the time by selecting from the very top end.
"It takes years of hard work, picking the correct sheep, buying the correct sheep and picking the sheep that is suited to your flock and then picking the right type of ram to suit the flock," stresses Eamonn.
"You could pay €20,000 for a ram and you could buy another for €1,500 and he would do a better job. The trick is buying the right type of sheep. The first thing I would look for is length - a nice level correct top-line, a level back, a good backend, tight wool and a clean head."
Such has been the consistency and rate of improvement in the Duffy flock that it was only a matter of when, and not if it would receive the most coveted annual award on the Suffolk breeding circuit.
Many of those attending the open day on Eamonn's farm, had also observed the consistent price range achieved by the Kells flock over the last 15 years.
The Kells rams' averages were rarely outside of the top three, with averages usually within the €700-€800 range and a top price of €1,700 recorded. Eamonn sells an average of 70 ram lambs each year.
The flock has produced a many award winners over the years for showing classes, including the Novice Champion in 2014.
Eamonn points out that the commercial breeder is his target market at the sales.
"I find that the commercial farmers love our type of sheep, ones that are easily fleshed, and come to market early with very little meal feeding.
"I have always thought about the commercial farmers since I started breeding Suffolks because it is all about the return that they get when they are sending their lambs to the factories," he says.
"About 96pc of the rams will go to commercial flocks and that is why we kept breeding our sheep on a definite line. We could have gone a different route and bred for the breeder, but they are only in the market for 4pc of the rams and what would we do with the rest of them.
"The Suffolk rams are great for cross breeding. When Suffolks rams are crossed with Charolais, Texel and Mule ewes, they made excellent replacement stock - they are a lovely cross - and that suits the commercial breeder" he went on to say.
Breeders will have another opportunity to view some of the flock when the Annual Draft Sale from the flock takes place at Carnaross Mart, Co Meath on Tuesday, September 5 at 1pm.
So what is the future of the flock ? Eamonn says he plans to maintain flock size at the present level and he is aiming to take some of the breeding stock to the Carlisle sales.
"We are going to continue to breed for the commercial farmer and if they are good enough for the commercial producer they are good enough for the breeder.
The flock is run alongside a commercial suckler herd with all of the progeny being finished for the beef market.
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