Breeding fast horses and pedigree Angus cattle at Gigginstown

Joe O’Mahony is the farm manager at Gigginstown House, and has been at the helm there for 21 years now, although originally from Co. Cork.

When Agriland visited the farm this week, preparations were being made for the annual on-farm sale which will take place on tomorrow (Saturday, April 16).

Many famous racehorses have spent time in the paddocks around Gigginstown House, including Tiger Roll and War of Attrition.

The farm

Owned by the well-known Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary, the farm is calving down approximately 250 suckler cows – 200 of which are pedigree Angus and the remainder are recipient cows.

The farm runs a 50-50 spring-autumn calving split.

Joe O’Mahony, farm manager

The farm also buys in about 150 cattle every year for beef, which graze behind the bloodstock, leaving over 600 head of cattle on the farm at any one time.

The grazing platform on the farm is almost 700ac, with roughly the same amount of ground in tillage.

The farm is unique in the sense that it is a stud farm first and foremost, and the cattle system in place must be managed in a manner that facilitates that.

Land management

Joe explained: “With bloodstock, you don’t use much fertiliser, you keep your phosphorus (p) and potassium (K) right but that’s it.

“We don’t want a flush of grass for mares and foals because what happens is a flush of grass can cause a foal to scour with too much milk.”

Gigginstown
Mares and foals grazing paddocks ahead of the cattle

When reseeding paddocks, older species such as Fescue and Timothy are used “which work quite well for the sucklers too” according to Joe.

“We find that with sucklers, those old grasses work quite good because while you don’t have that flush of grass in the spring – we don’t get out until April anyway because of the cold nights,” he added.

“The old grasses have a better sod to recover from poaching too and we find these grasses will last better into the autumn.”

Joe explained that he believes the current direction of advice from the farming industry is to return to farming practices similar to what older farmers would have traditionally done anyway.

“We had multi species grazing before the idea was even conceived, so had all the old-time farmers,” he said.

“Originally, most suckler farmers were lightly stocked, multi-species grazing, not putting out much fertiliser and as close to organic as you got.”

Silage ground on the farm is part of the tillage block and does include some perennial grass.

Joe explained that the grazing system is extensive because while the mares and foals don’t eat that much grass, “you have to keep them spread over several fields”. The suckler herd then come along after them and utilise all the remaining grass.

“Angus suits our system here because they’re a low maintenance, low-input breed and Michael [O’Leary] always had a genuine fondness for the breed,” Joe added.

Tillage

Grain from the tillage enterprise is sold to a farmer in the region and some of the tillage area is used for making wholecrop.

“I try to cut the wholecrop at the same time as the second-cut silage. We put the silage on top of the wholecrop to help seal the clamp,” Joe explained.

Gigginstown
Wholecrop silage with grass silage on top

“Our wholecrop starch values ​​are between 30-35% which is good,” he said.

Joe explained that there is a trade off with starch and digestibility saying: “The rarer or milkier you cut it for digestion purposes, you are dropping your starch value.

“The further on it goes, you are getting higher starch at the expense of passing through the digestive system.

“Maize is better for yield, but the wholecrop wheat suits our system better here.”

The bull shed

The farm features an impressive shed for housing the pedigree bulls. This shed has a slatted area and a dry-bedded area in each pen with headlocking barriers.

Gigginstown

There is a slatted tank under the dry-bedded area covered with a rubber mat.

“This leaves the shed that it can be turned into a feedlot in the future if our system changes,” said Joe.

The center passage has a tank that stores all the rain water. This is used to water trees and hedgerows on the farm.

There are no walls above ground on the shed and Joe added that “it works well” for them.

“On the coldest day of the year, you won’t feel air in the middle of this shed; it’s the walls that create the draughts. Even in the driving rain, it can barley touch the gates,” he said.

The shed also features a crush which is designed with safety in mind and can be operated with one person at ease.

Autumn calvers

The management approach of the autumn-calving herd is a simple and effective.

Joe explained: “As soon as winter barley is cut in mid-July, I dry off my cows and they are calving six weeks later.

“Autumn calvers are weaned late to prevent a dry period in mastitis season during June and July.

“One of the reasons we stayed with winter barley was that it suited our system of drying off the autumn-calving cows.”

Six-weeks before calving cows are put into slats, fed straw, dried off and given a double-mineral bolus. Their weanlings are moved on to good grazing.

Cows get one week on straw and, once dry, the cow then goes to the stubble.

All of the autumn-calvers calve outside on the stubble fields. Joe explained: “A 40/ac field would have 40 cows in it, they’re moving around all the time eating hay and picking at the stubble.

“The system works so well for us here with very little intervention.”

Once calved, the cow then moves onto the aftergrass. The calf is tagged and weighed, gets iodine on its navel and then joins the cow on aftergrass.

“Because of our calving system, we try and hold out with the winter barley sowing until mid to late-October. That’s three months we’re getting on stubble,” said Joe.

“Calving outdoors with autumn calvers tends to lead to very little malpresentation because they’re exercising. March and April is when you see the most difficulty with calving because cows have been in the shed all winter.”

Calves on the farm are not creep fed with the main reason being that “the cattle graze with bloodstock so if you have a creep feeder out with the bloodstock, there’s a chance of something running into it”.

“We have to be conscious of the mares and foals,” Joe added.

“Sure one mare would buy the herd of cows, two would buy the farm,” Joe laughed.

The sale

The pedigree sale will feature a total of 23 bulls and 18 heifers which are primarily 4- and 5-star cattle.

Joe explained: “These cattle have a nice, clean shoulder, a nice top loin and the nice, round Angus head.”

The bulls in the sale range in age from 16-19 months. They were out-wintered and housed in mid-February.

“The sale will feature bulls with easy calving-figures for the dairy farmer, we have bulls with plenty of stars for the suckler farmer and bulls for also suitable for pedigree breeders,” Joe said.

He added that generally, the buyers at the bull sale are “primarily suckler farmers”.

Sample of the bulls in the sale:

The sale of both maiden and in-calf heifers will also draw huge attention and Lot 29, a 4-star Red Angus heifer will no-doubt attract many buyers to the sale, as well as a few other eye-catching heifers with impressive breeding .

Sample of the heifers in the sale:

The sale will take place on Fennor Farm. Alternatively, bidding is available online via Ballyjamesduff Mart on the MartEye app.

The sale price from the final heifer into the ring, Lot number 42, will be donated to help the people impacted by the war in Ukraine and Michael O’Leary has agreed to match the price of the heifer and donate it to the same cause.

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