THE ULTIMATE SUCKLER BREED

BREEDER PROFILE : RYAN GIBBONS, GALWAY

I am a suckler farmer based in west Galway farming alongside my father Martin. We farm 20 cows across a mix of land, ranging from good grassland to heavy mountain type ground. We are mostly spring calving with heifers usually calving down at 24 months around October time, calves are normally sold as weanlings in the back end of the year with as little extra stock carried for the winter as possible. The herd consists mostly of Salers cross cows with the usual Limousin and Charolais thrown into the mix for good measure with the purebred Salers cows being the most recent addition.

My first introduction to the Salers breed would have been back around 2007 when we used the AI bull RIO on a Simmental cow at the time which produced a heifer calf who was retained for breeding. She turned out to be one of the best cows for calving and rearing ability that we had on the farm, calving some extremely difficult bulls across all breeds. As a result, any daughter she had we ended up keeping on for breeding stock also.

Why Salers?

After graduating college with an agricultural degree I ended up working away from home a lot in other parts of the country and only getting to come home at the weekends, this combined with my father working off farm as well, I was always trying to keep the farming system at home simple as possible. I wanted our calving season to run as smoothly as possible and also to have no issue with getting cows back in calf as we were 100% AI at the time. After having used Salers and seeing how well they managed these traits it prompted me to go looking at them in more detail. As part of a work trip I visited the Poldean farm in Scotland which was running over 400 purebred Salers cows with a Culard Charolais bull. When asked about calving difficulty and assistance the reply was “out of all these cows last season only 6 needed assistance”. In October 2019 I made a decision to get into purebred Salers cows, purchasing my first pure bred heifer at the Salers show and sale in Gort, she was on heat the very next day and had a heifer calf 9 months later. Since then I have steadily increased the number of pure bred cows in the herd and I have not looked back since.

The Benefits

Since getting into Salers I have found numerous benefits to our farm which was recently highlighted in a 5 year trend report from ICBF

  • Our herds replacement index went from €91 to €130
  • Our first calvers replacement index has gone from €54 to €150
  • Calving interval has gone from 391 days to 352 days
  • As I am increasing numbers I have not yet sold any pure bred females but I have sold a Purebred Salers bull at a price as competitive as any other breed in the market
  • In my first year with Salers calves and Salers cross Charolais calves, they averaged around €200/head more than any other calf on the farm

The Future

 My plan going forward is to gradually phase out the commercial cows as they age out or problems occur and replace them with purebred Salers heifers. My focus in terms of breeding at the minute is to breed good quality stock with a good wide pelvis and good depth along with good bloodlines. The aim is to have heifers with good replacement index figures so that they are marketable in a purebred or commercial market and in the case of bulls that you have good bloodlines along with the correct physical attributes. Currently I give all cows an AI Salers straw and then let them run with a Charolais bull a few weeks later.  I find these calves out sell any other type of cattle in a suckler market and they tend to be the first calves out the gate at the end of year with the least amount of input.

In a line I find the Salers breed to be simplistic, reliable and stress free. When calving season comes around I know I don’t have to worry about Salers calving which means less sleepless nights, less vet call outs for difficult calvings which leaves me with more time to focus on breeding and trying to improve the quality of cattle on the farm. At the end of the day as a suckler farmer my end product is a marketable weanling which a Salers cow is able to provide by the bucket load in the form of excellent cow makers, easy calving bulls or excellent fattening stock when crossed commercially.

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