Beef Shorthorn in Ireland

Rowanberry, Ennis, Co Clare fact file
150 acres grassland: 100 acres owned, 50 acres rented
50 pedigree Beef Shorthorn cows
10 commercial cows
10 pedigree Suffolk ewes

Alana, Shane, Shane Og and Frances Brigdale

Alana, Shane, Shane Og and Frances Brigdale

A perfect business fit in a part time farming operation

“I didn’t grow up on a farm, however I have happy childhood memories of time spent both on my uncle’s unit and helping my grandfather who kept a Shorthorn cow to provide milk for the house,” says Shane.

“My father seeing my love for farming bought me a few calves to bucket-feed and I am told I arrived home from first communion aged seven years, after feeding the calves, dressed to the nines in my new suit, much to my mother’s consternation. I met Frances shorly after she qualified as a vet, and despite not having been reared on a farm, she too had a great love for cattle and a special affinity for the Shorthorn breed. My father bought me 20 acres when I was aged 16 years, and in 1995, Frances and I together purchased Rowanberry.”

Today Shane works full time with his father’s coach company while Frances currently runs her own vet practice leaving the couple little time for farming apart from in the evenings and at weekends helped out by their teenage children, Shane Og and Alana.

Here at Rowanberry Farm our slogan is ‘the fusion of form and function’ and we will remain committed to promoting and improving Shorthorn cattle for the foreseeable future.
— Shane and Frances Brigdale

“Beef Shorthorn’s structural soundness, hardiness and docility facilitate ease of management which is a huge bonus to us since we both work off farm,” he comments. “We have a working herd of around 50 select females and our objectives continue - to breed the best stock bulls and females we can for sale to pedigree breeders and commercial producers, both at the farm gate and official Society sales in Ireland. We strive to produce a more efficient suckler cow, retaining maternal traits such as milk and calving ease, she has to have shape, and size - a maximum 750kg and be able to quickly get back in calf. We also want her to simultaneously improve carcass conformation and output.

“Furthermore, we run our pedigree herd on a strict commercial basis, we find the cattle have very low maintenance requirements and thrive on forage, the cheapest form of feed. The herd is housed from December to March and fed grass silage and minerals before being turned out and rotationally grazed - 50 cows and calves in three to five acre paddocks, from mid-March to the end of November.”

Rowanberry goes back to 1990 when it had traditional Irish dual-purpose status; 11 years on it was registered as a pure Beef Shorthorn herd and in 2006 it imported its first stock bull and heifer secured at the Perth bull sales. Since then, the herd’s breeding strategy has featured widening of the gene pool with regular purchases of Beef Shorthorn bulls and heifers from the UK, alongside careful selection of AI sires including some Canadian and Australian genetics to add something extra to the breeding programme.

“EBVs are important to us in selection, however we put looks first and then introduce Breedplan data. The herd is also Eurostar rated for maternal characteristics. It’s an additional recording tool to Breedplan, and a high percentage of our herd has been awarded the highest five-star rating.”

A portion of the Rowanberry herd

A portion of the Rowanberry herd

Herd health is also a priority. “Whilst there are no recognised herd health schemes in Ireland, Rowanberry is a member of a CHeCS approved scheme testing for Johne’s and IBR and all calves born are ear tag tested for BVD. “Not only does the scheme provide us with peace of mind, it also monitors herd health and facilitates trade for us with the UK. In addition, it has given us a head start when the importance of herd health status becomes acknowledged by Irish pedigree beef sector.”

The Brigdale family are familiar faces on the Irish show circuit. “Whilst we’ve achieved many successes, the most notable was a win in the hotly contested All-Ireland yearling heifer champion, and it is a testament to our breeding strategy that two years ago the first, second and third prize winners in the All-Ireland Shorthorn yearling heifer class were each sired by different homebred Rowanberry bulls.”

Shane says demand for Beef Shorthorn bulls from suckler producers in both Ireland and the UK has noticeably increased in the last few years. “We’ve seen a two to three fold increase in demand, as farmers have come to realise that Continental dams do not make such good mothers in terms of milk and temperament, and they are looking for more native blood in their cows.

“The trend has also been driven by the Irish Shorthorn Marketing Company’s scheme in conjunction with ABP Meats which was launched in 2016 and offers a 15c/kg premium on all steers and heifers sired by a registered Shorthorn bull and finishing at between 230kg and 380kg deadweight.

“There has also been increased interest in Beef Shorthorn sires from dairy farmers who see them as a viable alternative to other native breeds; they are either finishing the calves themselves or selling them in to the suckler sector,” he explains.

Homebred yearling heifers

Homebred yearling heifers

In fact, the Brigdales are amongst those suckler producers who are starting to reap the benefits of Beef Shorthorn in their Continenal cross commercial herd. “We used to put a Continental bull over our 10 suckler cows - they had shape but insufficient milk, however a couple of years ago we introduced one of our homebred bulls. We are delighted with his first crop of calves, they have good shape and growth rates and we are confident that the steers will find real demand in the store marketplace, whilst we plan to keep the heifers as replacements and phase out some of the Continental blood - fair testament indeed to our Beef Shorthorn.”