N&M Irish Moiled Cattle
Contact: Nigel Edwards & Michelle McCauley
The Ballyreagh and Curraghnakeely herds of cattle are exclusively pedigree Irish Moiled cattle herds owned by William (father) and Nigel (son) Edwards, situated in an upland area of Co. Fermanagh at 600 feet above sea level, around two miles outside the village of Tempo. The land consists of approximately 50% green grass pasture and 50% rushes or heather type land.
All the cattle are outwintered, the cattle forage on the rushes and heather areas over the winter months, helping with the control and management of rushes and heather on the farm. The Irish Moiled, being a medium sized cow are ideally suited to the land and management system on the farm, the lighter weight Irish Moiled cow means that foraging over the winter months can be achieved without poaching the land, keeping within cross compliance regulations.
Cows calve in the spring and the calves are weaned in the autumn, with all the bull calves being sold, and all the heifer calves being retained. After weaning, the heifer calves are grazed on the marshiest land on the farm and fed approximately 1.5 kg of meal per calf per day until the spring. Grazing the heifer calves on the wettest area of land is strategic, the lighter stock can cope better with the wetter land, but it also trains the weanlings to be very good natural foragers for the rest of their life. The maiden heifers are put to the bull at 15 months old so that they calve down at 2-year-old, with most of the cows in the herd comprising of 1st, 2nd and 3rd calved cows. The younger cows are preferred in the herd as they are lighter for the land and it also suits selling middle aged cows that are coming into their prime, to new and existing pedigree breeders.
An efficient cow with excellent performance is very much the key to success of the sustainability of the Ballyreagh and Curraghnakeely Irish Moiled herds. Individual cows must work hard to earn their place on the farm. The two performance parameters that are of most interest, are 1. Cow fertility and 2. Growth rate of calves. Heifers should calve down for the first time at the age of 24 months and they should produce a calf each spring year on year whilst producing plenty of milk to rear a calf of good growth rate from grazing on grass land pasture. A calf’s growth rate is also influenced by the stock bull’s terminal traits. A lot of emphasis is placed on stock bull selection within the herds which is very much responsible for the progressive herd improvement. Stock bulls are selected that produce progeny of low inbreeding co-efficient’s when crossed with the females in the herd, also considered is the bull’s temperament, the bull’s weanling weight, the classification scores of animals in the bull’s pedigree and the mother of the bulls breeding record and milking ability.
Performance targets are being attained in the herds, with an average calving interval of 360 days over the last 5 years and bull calves year on year are achieving an average DLWG to weaning of 1kg. This achievement is not only through good management on the farm but through genetic selection. Selection of bulls in the herd, have recently, and will be going into the future, be in conjunction with genomics, a new tool available to Irish Moiled breeders. Genomics allows for selection of stock bulls to be of good carcass weight and shape, with a guarantee that the maternal traits such as milking ability, fertility and good calving ability are also selected for and not sacrificed in any way.
Without doubt the Irish Moiled is the breed of choice adaptable to the land in Co. Fermanagh and to cope with the management system used to keep the Ballyreagh and Curraghnakeely herds. The launch of the Irish Moilie beef scheme in 2019 by the Irish Moiled Cattle Society really was the icing on the cake for these Fermanagh based pedigree Irish Moiled herds. Historically, the weanling bull calves produced on the farm were sold in the local livestock market, except for a few weanling bull calves each year being sold to other pedigree Irish Moiled breeders to become future stock bulls in their herds. Since 2019, besides the few bull calves that continue to go for pedigree breeding, all the other weanling bull/steer calves each year have been sold to various specialised Irish Moiled beef finishers who in turn either sell Irish Moilie beef boxes or supply various butchers such as Lisdergan Meats in Fintona, Co. Tyrone, who in turn sell Irish Moilie beef over the counter or supply various restaurants with this elite meat. In 2022, the weanling steer calves were sold to Denis Reddick of Rocky Farms, Ballinderry Upper, Lisburn. Each animal that goes into the food chain through the Irish Moilie beef scheme comes with a Certificate of Authenticity and as a breeder to support this certificate it is important to produce calves that are of high quality. All steer weanlings leaving the farm should be over 200kg, castration should have occurred in advance of weaning and the weaning process should be completed before the steers leave the farm. All these measures and attention to detail minimises the stress on the calves allowing them to quickly settle into their new home, maximising performance.