Shorthorn breeder: ‘I intend to stay in dairy farming’

This is Farming editor, Catherina Cunnane, in conversation with Frank Whitney of the PortShan Shorthorns in this week’s Suckler Focus segment. We discuss his passion for the breed, continuing a long family tradition, working off the farm and potential opportunities for dairy farmers.

“As well as the team, I run PortShan Shorthorns at Port House, Leitrim Village, Co Leitrim.

Our herd manager is Colm Moreton and our herd advisors are Bernard Whitney, Brendan Brennan, Joe Farrell and John Farrell; our vets are John McCourt, John Farrell and Michael Hunt and cattle judges Bradley, Flynn and Noah.

The farming tradition of the Whitneys in Port Shan began in 1898 when Patrick Whitney purchased the 70 acre farm.

His nephew Jimmy Whitney inherited the farm in 1926 and ran the business until 1970.

I am Bernard’s son and I took over the reins in 2008. I am married to Grenne and have two daughters: Helen and Frankie Rose.

A family tradition

Port Shan was a dairy farm until the 1970s. Port Shan Farm supplied milk to the hospital in Carrick-on-Shannon and ran a herd of 20 Friesians.

After Ireland joined the EU, dairy farming became a more attractive venture and Bernard switched to suckler farming and began to lay the initial foundations of a Shorthorn breeding herd.

I farm part time and work full time with Payac providing current account financial services to Credit Unions.

I have always worked with my father on the farm. First, I was introduced to the pitchfork and wheelbarrow at the age of five, and served my apprenticeship in the silo pit in the winter, cutting silage with a hay knife.

I then went on to serve as a silo pit engineer during the summer months under Pat Earley, Michael McCaffrey and Paddy Goukian.

I loved making a silo pit as a child and it is one of my fondest memories.

It took several weeks to make the silo and we sat and listened to the silo men tell yarns and laughed at their stories.

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Breeding Shorthorn herd

Now we raise 30 breeding Shorthorn cows on 110 hectares. My father started the herd and I love the tradition of continuing the breeding program and improving the condition of the herd. I believe we have achieved some success so far.

My father started a Shorthorn breeding program in the 1970s but never registered any cattle. When I took over the herd in 2008 I had to register all eligible stock with the Irish Shorthorn Society.

I have received great support and encouragement from the community and I am now involved as secretary of the local Croghan Shorthorn Breeders’ Club.

As reported recently This farming, I hosted a Youth Development Program event for Shorthorn farmers.

There were 60 young people there to learn all the skills required for show management, grooming, harness making and stock judging. The future of Shorthorns is bright and prospective breeders are showing great interest.

Shorthorns are known for their great nature and temperament, and I love the colors they shed, from blood red to white.

Some of our most prestigious cow families include Port Shan Blueway, winner of the Shorthorn Championship at the Tullamore Show 2022, and prolific breeder Port Shan Huny.

I have mostly used stock bulls, but this year I introduced Napoleon of Upsall to the main herd. But I also use AI, I think it’s important to try to use the best genetics available.

I have taken embryos from Portshan Huny and Chapelton Typhoon but haven’t bred with a buyer yet so that is part of the 2023 plans.

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The ideal cow

The herd is mainly spring-calf, working with cattle in the barn during the spring.

My ideal cow is a 600kg shorthorn, docile, milky, good natured, strong framed and well fleshed.

I sell all bull calves both on farm and off farm as weaned. I aim to get them to 400 kg.
Heifers are kept and bred for female heifers. Interestingly, I have stud heifers currently for sale with Stud Sale through this link.

I like to sell my stock so they continue to be used for breeding stock. Of the ones that don’t make the mark, I sell them commercially at the grocery store and they’ll still be fine.

I base it on fertility and age – anything over that is gone and if the cow doesn’t return to calf, it gets the door.

I enjoy calving season and the rewards of grazing the herd in the spring. You have to put a lot of effort into caring for livestock, but you get the satisfaction of both the physical work and seeing your animals grow into beautiful breeding stock. I love bringing beautiful heifers to market.

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Manure sampling and weighing

I have manured a sample of cattle with my vet to make parasite control decisions and that way the cows and calves are getting what they need instead of a blanket dose.

Plus I disinfect the shed and power wash and whitewash the walls in the spring. I use straw for the calves and crawl the young calves.

I have my own scale and weigh it as part of BEEP-S. Calves are weaned after feeding and are weaned in small groups and left in the paddock next to the barn.

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National herd reduction

The main problem these days is the mixed messaging from the government and the EU. On the one hand, we’re told we need food security, cut food miles and we’re not going to cut the national herd.

On the other hand, they implement environmental schemes that require us to reduce the number of herds, which will reduce food production.

The irony is that the EU will buy food from Brazil, knowing that the meat is untraceable and harmful to the planet’s lungs and the Amazon rainforest. meat

Environmental and carbon eco measures will reduce farming or put some farmers out of business.

Work-life balance

The main challenges for me personally is the balance between working full time and looking after the farm.

I use MooCall and calving cameras for calving. I calve 75% in spring and 25% in summer. Other than that, I try to let the grass do its job.

I would bring in a few replacement heifers every year and calve at 30 months.

The calving interval in the herd is 350 days and I wean at eight months and aim for a weaning efficiency of 55%.

On another note, I try to exhibit at the local Mohill and Elfin shows every year. I love meeting Shorthorn breeders and discussing the best traits of winning animals.

I show when I can, but time is tight with work and farming and I have two young daughters, but I aim to enter national shows with more cattle in the near future.

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Objectives

My main goal is to increase the star rating of the herd.

The Euro-star ratings are positive and a good indication of where we need to be. I am lucky to have four and five star women. I still like to judge by eye.

My area of ​​focus will be to increase female improvements in the Shorthorn breed, and part of that strategy will be to place sexed female sperm into the herd.

I intend to engage in dairy farming. I believe there will be great opportunities for farmers with renewable energy and environmental programs and there will be a great appetite for quality cattle and that is where my focus will be.

Reflection

In my life, we have been a suckling farmer, and looking at other businesses, nipples fit my full-time job.

I love farming and the work that goes with it. I grew up where we did everything by hand and the machine was something you read about.

It was a character-building exercise, and back then, many hands made light work as my four brothers, Shay, Brian, Fergus and John, were always present.

We got to know our neighbors, and if they needed help, we went and helped them. I still believe in helping my neighbors and family with household chores. It’s social, rewarding and takes your mind off some serious things in life.”

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