In the townland of Cappagh, 10km west of Adare in Co Limerick, the Power family prioritize the quality of their livestock.
Edigree breeder and founder of the Ballyhibben herd and the Knockarlow-Angus herd, Michael Power, has decided to reduce the number of ewes on the farm and instead focus on producing the best animals of each breed.
Michael has been a successful premier cattle and sheep farmer for many decades and has built a reputation for producing some of the highest quality livestock in Ireland and across the UK.
The trio, along with his son Alymer and Alymer’s fiancé April Higgins, manage an Angus herd of 55 cows and soon a herd of 100 ewes, which will consist of the Charollais, Hampshire Downs and Valais Blacknose breeds.
The Powers recently held a reduction sale of their Charollais herd at Blessington Mart. A total of 96 lamb breed Charollais hens were offered, with the sale proving to be very successful and bringing in a release of 95 pieces.
The sale was €3,800 for a 2019 fancy ewe whose dam was the 2018 All-Ireland Sheepflame. Scanned as a lamb for the €8,000 buck, Rockdale After Dark with twins, sold to the Malcomson of the Ringclare Charollais herd in Northern Ireland.
Ewe lambs reached a peak price of €1,800 with a ewe whose dam is a full sister of Ballyhibben Hulk. This ewe crossed the water to the Kirkhouse herd in Cumbria for breeders David and Johnathan Norman.
The Powers were also ready to scatter their Texel herd at the All-Star Women’s Sale at Blessington Mart on Saturday 10 December.
“I know if we stick with the Texel breed we won’t be able to keep these top-notch pedigrees to the standard that we think they deserve,” says Michael Independent Farming.
“We will focus on smaller numbers and have fun with what we do. I haven’t enjoyed it for the past two years between droughts and all that.
“Rather than downgrading the quality of the sheep, I would rather get out of them and let someone else take over. We’re really good with the Charollais and that’s where our name is. I’ll focus on her and put April to work on the Valais Blacknose and Alymer on the Hampshire Downs.”
The Powerpack Hampshire Down flock has been in existence for 26 years and the Powers will lamb 22 of these ewes at Christmas time.
“They are an early lambing and fast maturing breed of sheep. We usually sell them first in the season. One of our ewes was champion at the first auction in Tullow in July,” says Alymer.
While Michael works full time on the farm, Alymer is employed as a sales representative at Roches Feeds and April works full time as Group Key Account Manager at Elanco.
This year the family lambed a total of 200 ewes. Michael recalls lambing 400 purebred ewes on the farm in the past. “I loved the game,” he affirms, but emphasizes that the financial gain from a high stocking density is less important than enjoying the day-to-day work itself.
The Powers bought and reclaimed 110ac in 1985 and “then bought a few more plots and we’ve leased 50 acres now too,” Michael continues.
“We started with commercial sheep, mainly Borris ewes. We then bought three pedigreed Suffolk ewes in the late 80’s and eventually all went pedigreed.
“Then we got into the Charollais and really started to focus on them in the early ’90s and started selling rams from the farm. I’ve kept records from the start and I can look back on the first three ewes we ever had. The same goes for the Angus cows.”
As a result, Ballyhibben bred Charollais have bred show and sales champions and crossbred champions in Ireland, Northern Ireland and throughout the UK.
The family’s approach to keeping sheep quality high is similarly applied to the Knockarlow Angus herd.
“We buy our stock bulls either privately or mainly from the Carrick-on-Shannon auctions. We like a certain breed of Angus bulls, you also have to think about all the future heifers that come from him,” explains Alymer.
“The bulls we are looking for are easy calving and light beef. External work does not allow the use of AI. We go with two stock bulls to have an even batch of bulls that are roughly the same height and weight in February, March and April.
“We can have the two bull pens there so that when the buyer comes in they can see that they are all the same. We can set a price for all of them and let buyers choose from the stack.”
With a reduction in sheep numbers, the powers that be are considering increasing their Angus herd by 10 cows, which calve in the fall.
“Other farmers have learned that we have high quality bulls and many of them are sold by word of mouth,” says Michael. “We have not left the yard to sell an Angus bull in 20 years. Sales mainly to regular customers.
“Our Angus are not overly large. They have the real Angus heads on them, and if you don’t have the head, you have nothing. A breeder down in Kerry once told me that the width of his neck (head) should match the width of his hole. It’s true, and the same goes for Aries.
“When breeding cattle and sheep, the same standard applies, a male should have terminal traits and a bitch should have maternal traits.”
During the pandemic, April started a flock of Valais blacknose sheep as a lockdown project. Since then, the sheep have become Instagram stars, and the BoPeep Valais Blacknose page has over 110,000 followers. “We did a lot of research about the bloodlines, breeders and the breed itself,” says April.
“We then invested in the very best breeding stock we could find. We are delighted with the quality of the animals our founding herd has bred to date, including the overall winner at the first ever Irish Valais Blacknose Sheep Society show this summer.
“Yes, the breed is becoming increasingly popular, but quality over quantity always matters to me. If I had 10 really good lambs every year I would be much better off. We’ve had a very successful year this year selling lambs to both new and existing breeders and making some great friends in the process.
“Not only is the breed known as the ‘cutest sheep in the world’, but it has the personality to match. We are really looking forward to lambing season which is just around the corner.
“It’s also a very popular time of year for our social media channels as our followers love to see the new lambs arrive and watch them grow and develop throughout the year and for us it’s a very rewarding labor of love .”
“Why should I be put on a pedestal because I’m a woman in agriculture?”
“I think this big push with new groups and conferences just marginalizes women,” April says.
“I studied agriculture, grew up showing cattle and now we raise sheep. I am just as involved in farming at work and at home as any other man. Why should we be put on a pedestal just because we are women? I don’t like all the fuss that comes with the approach.
“Yes, in the past my grandmother could unfortunately not pursue her passion and work as a farmer or in industry due to the society of the time – but today it’s a different world.
“In my experience, women who work in all areas of agriculture are treated equally and treated equally to men. What do we need more awareness?
“When you go to agricultural shows, sales, corporate events or whatever, you just open your eyes and there are women everywhere. Women who buy and sell livestock, work stalls, run big companies and don’t take a pat on the back for it.
“We’re all on an equal footing in this industry so it’s a fantastic environment to work in.”
https://www.independent.ie/business/farming/sheep/why-this-limerick-sheep-farm-is-opting-for-quality-over-quantity-42203032.html Why this Limerick sheep farm chooses quality over quantity