By Julie Hazelton
AGRICULTURE Minister Edwin Poots was among the visitors who attended the Northern Ireland Aberdeen Angus Club’s Open Day at Tyrella in County Down.
The event, hosted by former NI and UK National Beef Association chairman Oisin Murnion, attracted pedigree breeders and commercial suckler herd owners from throughout the Province.
Club chairperson Hylda Mills welcomed everyone to the event, and thanked the Murnion family, Oisin, Anne-Marie and Jolene, for hosting the open day.
The Murnion family farm over 700 acres of land, the majority of which is designated as ASSI (Area of Special Scientific Interest), and is closely monitored to protect and safeguard various species, habitats and geological features.
The land is split across a number of sites, and includes islands in Strangford Lough.
Oisin is a pioneer of conservation grazing in Northern Ireland, and as a custodian of the land, is governed by various restrictions and regulations such as low-density stocking rates (one cow per five acres), and is not permitted to sow fertilisers or use supplementary feeding.
The famliy’s farming enterprises include a 100-cow commercial suckler herd plus followers, and a sheep flock comprising of 100 ewes and 200 hoggets. The Murnion family also own the Glenloughan Herd of pedigree Aberdeen Angus cattle which totals ten breeding females.
The environmentally sensitive nature of the land means it is more suited to hardy native breed cattle.
Addressing the crowd Oisin Murnion said: “Aberdeen Angus epitomises everything we want in a suckler cow, and around 90% of the suckler herd is now predominately Angus bred.
“Cattle are outwintered, and the Aberdeen Angus can withstand the rough terrain and inclement coastal and winter weather.
“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.”
He continued: “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 advantage in a herd of ‘free-range’ cattle.”
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, they 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 fifteen-years-old; and we recently sold a nine-year-old stock bull. He weighed 499kgs dead and graded R3.”
Visitors had an opportunity to view the pedigree and commercial cattle, and ask questions about the day-to-day management of the herd.
There was a stockjudging competition with John Blackburn, Killaney Herd, Clogher, taking on the role of master judge.
Prize winners include:
Under 25 – 1, Matthew Sufferin; 2, Mena McCloskey.
Over 25 – 1, Martin Clarke; 2, James Nelson; 3, Peter Clarke; and Stephen Wallace.
Everyone enjoyed delicious Aberdeen Angus steak burgers kindly sponsored by ABP/Linden Foods, and cooked to perfection by chef Ryan French.
More than £650 was raised for Air Ambulance Northern Ireland.
The Northern Ireland Aberdeen Angus Club is indebted to everyone who contributed to the success of the open day, especially the Murnion family and the Corbett family for the use of the land.
Thanks also to the various companies and local businesses for their sponsorship and support, Burren Balsamics, Foyle Meats, Fane Valley, Joseph Walls, George Hamilton Machinery, Hardy’s Kilkeel and Bann Hire.
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