We are James and Martina Ham, and we farm in Moyvore , Co Westmeath. The farm is a total of 52 ha , with 26 ha now under mixed forestry, managed to continuous cover principles.
On the remaining 26ha we run a 20 cow suckler herd , with approx. 4 ha of spring barley for our own feed and straw. We have progressively reduced our chemical inputs over recent years and have introduced mixed species swards with older grasses.
We started out with a double suckling herd of Simmental and Limousin cross, reverting to a single suckling, autumn calving herd about 20 years ago. It is a closed herd, with all breeding by a.i. with different bulls selected to suit heifers or cows.
Heifers are selected as replacements, with the rest of the progeny being sold as forward stores at 18 months.
Fertility and conception rates have always been good, but over the years we saw an annual rise in calving difficulties, as the breeds being used seemed to become more and more beefy and muscled , with large birth weights. Intervention at calving became the norm , with up to 85% of cows needing assistance . This came to a head at 3am one night when we lost both a cow and calf. Our son, who was helping me, said “ Dad, we need to stop this!! “.
I had heard of the Aubrac breed and knew that they were supposed to be easy calving. We attended an Aubrac society field day and followed with a visit to one of the breeders who had some cross bred cows like ours, to see what the progeny would be like, and we were impressed. Some Dolby and Duroc straws were purchased from Irish Aubrac for the breeding season.
Eight years on, intervention at calving has become a rarity, but also all the labour of having to get calves up and help them to suck has been eliminated as the little Aubrac are so lively at birth. A handy size at birth, within two to three weeks they transform into strong animals with great conformation.
Some locals said that because they were a “new” breed , they would be hard to sell but that has never been an issue, We now have farmers coming back looking for a few more.
Easy to feed, we now have extra barley to sell, as we don’t need to feed as much. Getting heifers to slaughter at 20 – 23 months, without meal is not a problem,
The plan is to progress towards an organic system on the farm, and the Aubrac are going to leave that much easier.