French genes come into their own for Vendéen top of the flocks

Ciaran Coughlan has combined semen from the breed's native terrain with the pick of Irish stock to nurture the best Vendéen flock in the country

Ciaran Coughlan with judge Richie Allen at last year's Tullamore Show
Ciaran Coughlan with judge Richie Allen at last year's Tullamore Show

Martin Ryan

The flock of the year accolade is the most coveted title in any breed and it is an even greater challenge to retain it against the cream of the crop in the Vendéens.

Ciaran Coughlan from Ferbane, Co Offaly has won the Vendeen Flock of the Year Award for the last two years and his Noggus flock look sure to be in reckoning for more awards on the show circuit in 2018.

The Offaly livestock and sheep farmer didn't venture into keeping pedigree Vendeen until 2003. Yet well planned breeding and good management has taken his flock into the elite of the breed in the country in a relatively short time.

"In 2003, I bought a ram lamb and used him on a few ewes in the flock and I was very, very impressed by the progeny from them, so I decided then to try a few more ewes and went on from there to build up the flock," says Ciaran.

He bought semen from carefully selected breeding lines in France on two occasions - 2014 and last year - which contributed a lot to the flock development.

"I got better milk and better conformation muscle wise from the imported breeding which has done a lot for the flock," he explains.

"I also bought stock at a few of the breeders sales, in particular from the late Tony Keneghan when the clearance sale was held at Tullamore, and also from Jim Boland because both of these flocks had bred All-Ireland champions ewes and they had very good breeding."

About seven to eight years ago he started entering sheep at the shows around the country.

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"At the start it was great to get any prize. I remember the first year that I got fifth place for a ram at Tullamore and I thought it was marvellous to be among the winners, and now I take it for granted when I get first place quite regularly," says Ciaran.

"If I am beaten now it is more of a shock for me. I love to see other people winning, too, but you can get so used to winning when a good flock is built up that you almost take it for granted because you know that the breeding is good."

He admits that it was a slow process from the start to build the quality flock and it took time, "but it was something that I enjoyed and it was nice to be doing a little better each year".

He still remembers very clearly when he brought home first prize for the first time "because that was very special to me at that time".

Nowadays, he is a regular exhibitor at up to eight shows each year with Tullamore, Limerick, Clonmel, Athlone, Mullingar, Bonniconlon and Trim all on his schedule.

"It is not unusual now to be showing sheep at some venue every second Sunday, and I like to catch the hurling and football matches on the Sundays in-between," he says.

In 2016, he won the Vendéen Show Flock of the Year for the first time, saying "that was great because the competition was very stiff.

"It was in the balance for some time between Cheryl O'Brien (Cork), who was going for the title for the fourth year in a row, and myself, and it was hard to know which way it was going to go right to the end.

"I suppose it was a bit more special to win it when I was up against a possible four-in-a-row, but Cheryl was not an easy one to beat because she had been very successful at the shows over those years and she has great stock," he says.

"I was a good bit more ahead in retaining the title last year, but I suppose they will be all out to get me this year. It is going to be a challenge to retain it, but I will be trying hard to make it three-in-a-row."

In addition to the Flock of the Year award, Ciaran's other winners last year included: senior ram, Tullamore; champion for a ewe lamb, champion and reserve at Limerick; similar success at Bonniconlon; male champion at Mullingar, and champion at Athlone.

"We have our premier breeders sale in July and it is harder to keep up the standard after that because some of them have been sold on," he says.

The success at the shows has been matched with exceptionally good prices at the sheep sales.

At Sheep Ireland he received the second highest price of €910 for a Vendeen ram, February 2017-born Noggus Robben, which was bought by Michael McGrath, Monelia, Mullingar.

The half twin, which was champion of breed at Tullamore Show, is by the reigning All-Ireland Male Champion and winner of numerous other show awards. Ciaran also received €910 for an entry at the Vendéen Breeders Elite Sale.

"I am hopeful of doing reasonably well this year with some nice lambs bred from French AI," he says.

"The Vendéen are very good for easy lambing and they are hardy for coping with the weather, and the lambs can be let out very quick. While other sheep would be very bare, I find that the Vendéen would have a nice bit of wool cover and they are hardier for the weather. They have very good growth rates."

Beside the award-winning flock, he runs a flock of 90 commercial ewes and a calf to beef enterprise of 30 head.

Outside of the farm he has been actively involved in the Vendéen Sheep Society as their national chairman for the past year and is currently a member of the National Council, the governing body.

He says that the society is continuing to attract new breeders each year and he expects the trend to continue.

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