Breeder Profile: Declan Bell, Ennis, Co. Clare Ballyvonnavaun Salers

Farming enterprise.

I keep 15 suckler cows and 20 ewes on 35 acres. Approximately half the land is limestone land and half is corcas ground. The corcas needs careful management and can be tricky in a wet year. However, it can really pump grass and comes into its own in a drought. Calves are weaned at seven to eight months old, and once fully weaned and eating a pinch of meal, are sold through our local marts. The heifers that we deem to be our best are either retained for breeding or sold at the salers heifer sale in Gort in October. The cows all have salers blood, with a mixture of crossbred and pedigree cows kept. We use mainly salers and charolais sires. With the exception of a couple of bought in pedigree heifers, all our breeding females have been bred by ourselves over the years. We have consistently selected for fertility, docility, calving ability and milk. It gives great pleasure to be able to look at a cow and recall all the generations of her line before her and trace her back to a particular cow from the 80s. My father bought the farm in the late 70s and began building a suckler herd in the early 80s. The first cows were good thick British freisians. These were crossed with a mixture of traditional breeds and continentals. Everything was AI bred through the 80s, 90s and up to 2005 with the arrival of the first bull on the farm, a salers.

How long have you had Salers in your herd and how did your use of Salers begin?

Our neighbour John Burke brought in pedigree salers stock from France over twenty years ago and quickly established himself as a breeder of note. We were very impressed with the breed and John told us about the fertility and maternal qualities of the salers but we were reluctant to stray from the tried and trusted limousin, charolais and simmentals. My father Kieran worked in the AI station in Clarecastle for many years and it was there that he saw the legendary bull Jovial. We were aware that the Salers was known for its maternal characteristics but Jovial was also very impressive in terms of conformation. This prompted dad to use Jovial on a couple of cows in the early 2000s. These salers calves were as good as the charolais and limousin calves.

The Jovial sired calves in 2003 / 2004 were our first experience of salers cattle on the farm and we were very pleased with them. We had a young herd at the time and did not have a requirement for replacement heifers and so, regrettably, we sold the Jovial heifer. We had used all AI up until 2005 when my father bought his first bull. He decided to go with Salers and purchased a fine young bull from Bernard Hunt’s Sligo herd. The following year I purchased a pedigree heifer from John Burke’s Manusmore herd and we were up and running. Manusmore Graine bred some super calves for us over the years as did my next pedigree purchase, Clew Bay Kate. Kate won the All-Ireland heifer calf competition for Tom McGreal and so we decided to continue showing her. She was very successful for us, winning the All-Ireland cow title two years in a row. She was Tullamore Champion in 2016 also. Having got the showing bug we decided to train our own calves. We’ve been very lucky over the years and have enjoyed some great days at shows. Ballyvonnavaun Olga, Graine’s daughter, was reserve champion in Tullamore as a calf. Kate’s daughters Ballyvonnavaun Penny and Ballyvonnavaun Ria won first prize heifer calf in Tullamore in consecutive years and Ria was overall calf champion in 2016.

Future Plans

I’m currently running a salers stock bull, Knottown Raj. I intend to breed all cows to salers for the coming years. As mentioned, I sell stock as weanlings. The farm is too small to keep them on as there would simply be too many different stock groups. In this system, you can sometimes have to take a little hit with the salers weanling bull. However, we have found that the salers weanling bull is starting to perform better at marts in recent years. Also, the added value of the salers heifer more than makes up for the difference. More and more farmers are turning to salers for their calving ability, fertility and longevity in particular and this has led to strong demand and great prices for the salers heifers. I’m considering using sexed semen in order to maximise the number of heifers produced. I’m also looking forward to getting back to shows in 2022.