Tyrella in County Down is hosting the Northern Ireland Aberdeen Angus Club’s Open Day on Sat-urday (August 20).
The event, which takes place at 90 Clanmaghery Road, Downpatrick, BT30 8SU, commences at 11am and will be hosted by Oisin and Anne-Marie Murnion, and daughter Jolene Burns.
Oisin Murnion was NI chairman of the National Beef Association from 2009 to 2016, and UK chairman in 2011.
Farming over 700 acres of high nature value land, the family’s suckler and sheep enterprises can be referred to as Pastoralism – the management of low input land.
The majority of the farmland is designated as ASSI (Area of Special Scientific Interest), and is monitored to protect and safeguard various species, habitats and geological features.
“The land is within a 30 mile radius of our home farm, and is split across a number of locations at Ballykinler, Glenloughan, the Mourne Mountains, Downpatrick, Paul Island and Taggart Island in Strangford Lough,” explained Oisin, who is a pioneer of conservation grazing in Northern Ireland.
“Most of the land we farm is species rich pasture and heather rich moorland, surrounded by sand dunes and coastal landscapes.
“These are long-studied sites with a large variety of flora and fauna, and it’s interesting to note that the Ballykinler area is home to the Marsh Fritillary butterfly, a very rare and protected species.
“As custodians of the land we are governed by various restrictions and regulations such as low density stocking rates (one cow per five acres).
“We’re not permitted to sow
artificial fertiliser or use supple-mentary feeding.”
Main enterprises include 100 commercial suckler cows plus followers, 100 ewes and 200 hoggets, mainly Lanark and Perth-type Blackface, and a small herd of pedigree Aberdeen Angus cattle registered under the Glenloughan prefix. The environmentally sen-sitive nature of the land is more suited to native breed cattle.
“The cattle and sheep are outwintered, so it’s crucial that we have hardy breeds which can withstand the rough terrain and the inclement winter weather,” added Oisin.
“There is land as far as the eye can see, and the contours of the ground and the natural flora provide shelter for the animals in cold and hot weather.”
Oisin, Anne-Marie and Jolene initially had a herd of black Galloway cattle which are well-known for their ability to forage and survive on marginal land and inhospitable climates.
The breeding programme focused on crossing with native breed bulls, resulting in a herd of Angus/Shorthorn/Galloway cows.
“We bought our first Aberdeen Angus bull in 2011,” recalls Oisin. “I like a long, stretchy stock bull with breed character and good legs and feet.”
Bulls have been purchased over the years from leading herds such as Liss, Glasker, Yellowhill and Leestone.
They were sons of proven Angus bulls Bunlahy Kojak, Dartrey Richie and Birches Lord John.
“The Aberdeen Angus epitomises everything we want in a suckler cow, and around 90 per cent of the herd is now predominately Angus bred.
“The medium-sized cows are ideally suited to the conditions. They are fertile, easy calving and have excellent maternal qualities, which are essential traits when they are mostly isolated and self-sufficient.
“Spread over such a vast area it is impossible for us to be on-hand when cows are calving.
“It’s survival of the fittest, and the Aberdeen Angus is an easy fleshing, healthy and hardy breed with the ability to survive on a low input system.
“The cows calve all year round, but more than half the herd is spring calving.
“They have a lovely temperament, and plenty of milk to rear their calf. The breed’s naturally polled characteristics are another advant-age in a herd of ‘free-range’ cattle.”
Calves are weaned around seven or eight-months-old of age. The best heifer calves are retained and reared as suckler replacements, while the bull calves are grazed and out-wintered on one of the islands in Strangford Lough.
Oisin has established a ready demand from repeat customers at Markethill Mart and Rathfriland Co-op.
The Angus progeny are sold as forward stores, ranging in age from 15 and 20 months-old, and can command prices from £900 to £1,500 per head.
“Aberdeen Angus beef is a niche market product, and the premium makes it attractive for beef finishers.
“Now and again, depending on trade and if we need to maintain cash flow, we sell a batch of weaned bull calves.
“They attract prices of around £500 to £700 per head, which is very profitable considering they haven’t had the luxury of expensive creep feed.”
Cull cows and bulls are also saleable. “Longevity isn’t an issue. Aberdeen Angus cows and bulls lead long productive lives.
“We wouldn’t keep a suckler cow over 15-years-old; and we recently sold a nine-year-old stock bull. He weighed 499kgs dead and graded R3.”
In 2020, Oisin, Anne-Marie and Jolene embarked on a new venture, purchasing pedigree Aber-deen Angus females from John McCallister’s Glasker prefix, and the Dartrey herd owned by Hylda Mills at Scarva. The herd has grown 10 breeding females.
A selection of pedigree and cross-bred Aberdeen Angus cattle will be on display at next week’s open day.
Everyone is welcome! The sch-edule is aimed at providing a fun-filled and educational day for all members of the family.
There will also be a clipping demonstration, followed by a bar-becue.
Breed society junior vice president Ian Watson, from Kelso in Roxburghshire, will also be on-hand to announce the winners of the NI Aberdeen Angus Club’s annual herd competition.
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