In the 61 years since the bloodlines were first imported from Austria, John Connaughton has lost none of his passion for Simmental.
The 90-year-old, who farms in Barretstown, Dysert outside Mullingar, says: “I think they’re better now than they were when we imported them in 1971 because we raised more beef in them and they’re better for the cattleman cut off .
“The Simmental was primarily used as a dairy breed in Austria and was very dairy, but by crossing we bred in more meat, and the Irish Simmental is now among the best continental breeds for meat production.”
John made “a small fortune” introducing the breed to the United States.
“The Americans were interested in getting the Simmental but the regulations didn’t allow them to import directly from Austria and they were willing to pay £8,000 for the weaned breeding heifers, which was like manna from heaven at the time,” he recalls themselves.
“I remember there was a sale in a big ballroom near the Dallas airport and there was a red carpet for the heifers to walk on.
“I remember getting $8,000 for a heifer when I sold it and I’m sure we spent almost everything before we got home and had a great time.
“We had the export market for the heifers but it was difficult to sell the bulls and I made an agreement with the Americans that they had to take a £3,000 bull for every heifer bought.
A key link at this time in establishing trade with the US was Co Waterford-born Irish-American industrialist, businessman and Pfizer Inc. philanthropist, John A. (Jack) Mulcahy.
After his success as an industrialist in the US he had developed a considerable interest in farming in Ireland and owned Kilfrush House and Farm near Knocklong, Co Limerick and Woodruff House and Estate near Clonmel, Co Tipperary.
“When Jack Mulcahy came back from America and bought the farms, he bought some Simmentals from me for his farm in Tipperary,” John said.
“He had contacts in America and I sold some through him and other agents came to me as well and all the heifers I could breed at the time were exported to America through Jack Mulcahy’s contacts or an agent in America,” he added.
John, who has sold banked blood for up to €650,000, got into Simmentals in 1971 – he was one of the first people to import the breed.
“I was talking to a fellow rancher one evening and he mentioned this new breed of cattle to me. He suggested that bringing some to this country might be worthwhile.
“It was very difficult at the time to get a license to bring cattle into this country, but I applied to the ministry and got it.
“I bought 10 Simmental heifers. They didn’t cost much money. I paid around £1,000 to £1,200 each but they had to go to Spike Island for quarantine which added to the cost.
“It was the beginning of the continental breeds on Irish farms, where there were mainly Hereford, Angus and Shorthorn, and as a result a Charolais also came into existence around this time.
“The advantage I saw in the continentals was that they produced leaner meat and that was becoming more popular at the time.”
The investment paid off, especially when he started exporting to the US, and today more than 300 Simmental crossbreeds are bred at John’s farm each year.
John is the founding breeder of the Irish Simmental Cattle Society and remains actively involved in the family portfolio which includes the five star Bloomfield House Hotel near Mullingar and a development company.
However, when the Simmentals first came many people wanted nothing to do with them and wanted to stick with the Herefords and the Angus and Shorthorns, but the embryonic work was just beginning
Joe Sheridan TD (Westmeath) had also brought 10 Simmental heifers around the same time. Shortly after, he called John Connaughton about a problem. There was an outbreak of (bovine) TB in his area and he was afraid his Simmental might catch it, so he offered John his imported animals.
“Of course I would be interested,” he said and agreed to buy the 10 animals, which increased his stock to what was then the largest herd of Simmental breeds in the country.
He vealed them all in due course and when the opportunity for export to the US became a reality it was like a dream come true for John Connaughton when he decided to invest in Simmentals and in the process received a multiple return to achieve.
When it comes to breeding, John accepts that ‘Lady Luck’ can play a part, alongside the vital ingredients of good judgment and stockmanship. As an example, he cites his most successful bull, Ballybane Lad.
John exhibited the show’s champion at a Simmental auction in Goffs. The bull was sold to a breeder from Scotland but his export was delayed for a few days during which time he served two cows in the Ballybane herd, one of which produced Ballybane Lad.
He became the regular bull in the herd for 13 years and bred several RDS champions and many other show winners.
Over the years, John made several trips to Austria and Switzerland to find bloodlines to improve the breed.
“The type of bull we were looking for was of little interest to the Austrians because they used the breed for dairy farming and only had beef-type bulls in certain areas,” he says.
“I imported bulls from Austria and heifers from Switzerland and crossed them with the Simmental that we had.
“Irish farmers used Simmentals for crossbreeding with dairy herds and they preferred the light colored animals and it’s unfortunate that we left behind some great Simmental bulls because they were red and the Irish dairy farmer didn’t want them.
He says the Irish Simmental is “a damn fine breed of cattle” because more beef has been bred into them.
However, he has concerns that “there is now too much milk blood in the (Simmental) crossbreds in Ireland” and not enough good crosses that “would give you the greatest return of any continental animal”.
“I find it difficult to get the good Simmental from the dairy herds where there is a lot of Holstein and the dairy line comes through them,” he says. “A good Simmental cross can be obtained from the British-Frisian dairy herds.”
https://www.independent.ie/business/farming/beef/beef-farm-profiles/meet-the-90-year-old-westmeath-breeder-who-made-a-small-fortune-selling-simmentals-to-america-42248095.html Meet the 90-year-old Westmeath breeder who “made a small fortune” selling Simmental horses to America