By Dan McAreavy
Strong views on many aspects of the country’s cattle industry were expressed to me this week by two County Down brothers who this month made Friesian history by exhibiting at the Royal Show at Stoneleigh.
Pioneers in many fields of cattle breeding for over 20 years, Messrs David and Channon Heenan of Barbican Farm, Newcastle, remain dissatisfied and disappointed with what they regard as the “many handicaps impeding progress” in the agricultural industry.
Government policy with special reference to quarantine facilities, shows, Ulster Weeks and the attitude of the Northern Ireland farmer to agriculture in general and pedigree breeding in particular, were just a few of the topics coming under the Heenan microscope.
The Heenan brothers – both still in their thirties – talked to me on a range of subjects that could cover a dozen normal farms.
Leading Irish Friesian breeders for years, they were the first to exhibit the breed at the Royal . . . the first to introduce the Canadian Holstein to this country . . . the first to inaugurate the private sale of semen which is now attracting customers from as far way as New Zealand . . . the first to introduce the Canadian style Draft sale . . . and as a bonus they may well be the first to show Polled Friesians.
“Everyone should have the ambition to leave a monument which in the case of the farmer must mean better stock and better land,” is the brothers’ philosophy.
It all began at the end of World War One when Mr John Heenan – he is still hale and hearty and proud of his sons’ achievements – bought the 150 acre Barbican holding – so named because it was an outlying part of Lord Roden’s estate – at Bryansford Road, Newcastle.
However the normal mixed programme, starting with a few sheep and cattle as the main stocking lines, gave little hint of the establishment of the famous Barbican Herd – which was to become a bye-word in Friesian breeding circles.
Developments have necessitated the taking of a further 250 acres of land on lease to meet the feeding and cropping requirements of the farm programme. Including 200 acres of barley, 1,000 tons of silage, a small quantity of hay and the balance of grazing for the 70 cows and young stock.
The herd is managed commercially in a yard and parlour system – a new Herringbone milker is a recent addition – with self-fed silage.
Outside the home-grown barley, Thompsons supply the dairy concentrates and the show cattle rations while the firm’s Hungerford system is being adopted for the young calves.
Returns from milk are considered “on the slide” during the past five or six years due to reductions in the basic price, coupled with mounting outlays in investment and labour costs. But beef has “at least held its own over a similar period.”
It is a tribute to their natural flair for farming that neither brother has had any special training – outside the odd winter agricultural class – for the management of their business.