At the recent Irish Grassland Association (IGA) walk held on the farm of Martin Shaughnessy, Ballinrobe, Co Mayo, attendees were treated to a showing of exceptional stock, with the herd of commercial cattle taking central focus.

Extending to 68 acres of mainly dry ground, the farm runs a spring-calving herd of 17 cows, with 80 Texel and Suffolk-cross ewes sponged and lambed in early February, with an additional 80 sponged to lamb down in late March.

Cows and calves on display from the IGA walk held on the farm of Martin Shaughnessy. 100% AI is used on the mainly Limousin-bred dams.

Cows are mainly larger-framed Limousin-cross types, with calving taking place between early January and late March. Martin switched away from Simmental cows, which had been previously on farm, with Belgian Blue sires targeted at the Limousin cows to produce exceptional export type weanlings.

High reliability bulls are used with carcase weight, conformation and moderate calving difficulty, the three primary traits Martin looks for.


While being large-framed, cows are not extremely muscled, with Martin selecting bulls to high indexes for carcase weight and conformation without excessive calving difficulty chosen to produce E and U grading weanlings.

Popular sires for breeding replacements in the past have been CWI, LM2188 and LM2395.

The mix of using high reliability sires matched with cows has resulted in only one caesarean section in the past five years on the farm.

Replacement heifers sired by CWI, LM4058 and LM2395 were served to sexed semen from LM2014 this spring.

“I would only use easy-calving Limousin sires on heifers, and from her first calving I can then judge her calving ability. If I wanted to trial a Belgian Blue bull with a low reliability figure for calving, I will use him on a cow I know has excellent calving ability,’’ explained Martin.

AI and sexed semen

All cows on farm are artificially inseminated with a teaser bull purchased each year from a farm to aid in heat detection. With cows calving from early January onwards, some cows are served before turnout, which is typically late March/early April, though it was delayed this year. Sexed semen is to be used on a targeted basis on cows served indoors.

Sires of this year’s calves included BB6700, BB9463, BB7443, BB4438 and BB7638 with sires such as STQ, PPS and BB2247 used in the past.

An De Beauffaux (BB4438) has been a popular sire for Martin, producing quality calves such as this heifer.

Belgian Blue bulls are selected for high reliability, with traits such as high conformation and carcase weight without extreme calving difficulty favoured.

“You have to mix it up, crossing different bulls on different cows,” stated Martin.

“There are cows there that I know would calve anything and I might try use a new bull on them that might not have the high reliability figures.

“For a cow that might be touch and go on calving ability I would use the high reliability bulls like BB4438.” This hand-picking of bulls and high level of stockmanship has resulted in just one caesarean section in the last five years.

Figures don’t lie

Martin hasn’t let the quality or price of his weanlings deflect away from running an efficient system. The number of calves per cow per year over the last five years sits at 0.98, owing to a low mortality rate and an impressive 375-day calving interval, while the replacement index sits at €107.

An important key performance indicator (KPI) that can often be forgotten by farmers is replacement rate, which sits at a respectable 20% on the farm.

Large-framed Limousin-type cows, such as this Wilodge Joskins-sired cow, are crossed with high carcase and high conformation bulls such as Moderato, the sire of the calf in the above picture.

Total output on the farm sits at 820kg/ha, with this consisting of 604kg/ha and 943kg/ha for the beef and sheep, respectively.

The 2024 calves were recently weighed, with bull calves averaging 200kg liveweight with an average daily gain of 1.39kg/day, while heifers calves clocked in at 176kg at an average daily gain of 1.22kg/day.

Focus on grass

Producing high-end stock like this can often be heavily dependent on concentrates to drive weight gain. However, maternal genetics are not forgotten when selecting bulls for breeding replacements, with all cows positive for milk kilos within the herd.

Grass is a major driver of production, both on the beef and sheep front. Stock is rotationally grazed on a paddock system, with both calves and lambs being creep grazed ahead of older stock through creep gates (lambs) or raised wires (calves).

Martin consistently targets covers of 1,300kg to 1,400kg DM/ha, with the home block of ground used for the suckler herd growing approximately 13t DM/ha per year.

Very little topping is done on the farm, with Martin mowing out paddocks for surplus bales instead. Last year, 80 bales of surplus were taken off the grazing platform, despite a relatively high stocking rate of 1.9LU/ha.

Allowing youngstock to creep graze means that residuals are hit without impacting weight gain.

  • 17 Limousin-cross cows and 160 Suffolk and Texel-cross ewes.
  • 68 acres stocked at 1.9LU/ha.
  • Producing fat lambs and export/fatstock quality weanlings. 2024 weanlings averaged >€1,700
  • 375-day calving interval, 0.98 calves/cow/year, with 100% AI being used.
  • Bulls selected for high reliability, carcase weight and conformation.