A group of like-minded farmers who came together earlier this year with a view to forming a new breeding group to safeguard the genetics of the Connemara-Mayo Blackface sheep have received a bigger reaction than they could have ever imagined.
The Connemara group has a membership of 12 producers and about 175 breeders have entered sheep for the group’s inaugural premier sale on 2 and 3 October in Maam Cross Mart, Co Galway.
A welcome feature of the group is the fact that the initiative to set it up was driven by a number of young sheep farmers who are farming in their own right or heavily involved in their family farm. One such breeder is Dean Kerrigan who farms in Glentraughe, Co Galway.
I have grown up surrounded by experienced farmers who are committed to and passionate about safeguarding the Connemara-Mayo Blackface genetics
Dean explains that the development of a defined sale which brings sheep possessing such genetics together in one venue on one day has numerous benefits.
The obvious benefit is that it offers a larger showing of sheep for prospective buyers and a potential to showcase the breadth of genetics within the Connemara-Mayo Blackface gene pool. For the producers, it also offers a platform to link farmers together to share technical knowledge and breeding expertise.
There is significant variation within the breed from what some will classify as hardier sheep best suited to hard hills
“I have grown up surrounded by experienced farmers who are committed to and passionate about safeguarding the Connemara-Mayo Blackface genetics.
“There was a concern among some producers regarding breed lines being diluted or lost due to crossing with other Blackface breeds or breeding lines becoming narrow due to replacements being sourced from a narrow gene pool.
“There is significant variation within the breed from what some will classify as hardier sheep best suited to hard hills, a larger-framed sheep that in some cases is described as being softer in nature and possibly more suitable to more productive hills and a sheep which lies somewhere in the middle and possesses characteristics of both.
“The sale will showcase all these breed types and allow breeders, where desired, to source new bloodlines. Ultimately, the aim of the group is to revive and protect these distinctive genetics for future generations and ensure high breeding standards are maintained.”
The group has the same aims and targets
Dean says there are many farmers in the group also involved in the Mayo-Connemara Blackface Breeding Group which has been holding sales in Mayo for some time. He says the new group has not been set up to rival this group and rather will look to develop and build a strong relationship.
“The group has the same aims and targets and the reason the Connemara-Mayo Breeding Group was established was to capture the interest of breeders in the Connemara region, so that all regions will be serviced with groups to meet their needs.”
There are 1,800 females catalogued for sale on Saturday 2 October including 800 ewe lambs, 650 aged ewes and 400 ewe lambs. The level of interest was such that the entry could have been even greater were space not limited. This is strongly reflected in the fact that there are 440 rams (230 hoggets, 130 ram lambs and 110 aged rams) entered for the Sunday, with both Saturday and Sunday sales starting at 11am.