Many will have heard of the Harte Peat business, but few will realise that company founder Tommy O’Harte has been assembling one of the biggest pedigree beef herds in the country over the past number of years.
Having been brought up on the home farm outside Clones in Co Monaghan, a thriving business delayed Harte’s career in farming.
Tommy said: “I started the Peat business in the early 1980s, became too busy at that and didn’t have time to go farming. This home block here was a dairy farm for 40 years and when my father decided to retire, I bought the 100 acres off him.
“I rented out the farm at that time, but in around 2010 or 2011 I got fed up of looking at the weeds and said surely I can make it look more attractive. We started then with dry cattle for a few years. Just by pure chance, I saw a sale in Elphin Mart and said if I’m going to have cows, then I may as well have pedigrees.”
This pedigree journey started in 2015 and from then on, the farm tried to source top genetics for a number of breeds, keeping a close eye on dispersal sales where the herd could easily tap into proven bloodlines.
Tommy said: “Basically, we tried to buy the best we could at the particular time. We tried to go for dispersal sales over anything because we thought if we could pick up the prime after someone’s 30 or 40 years of breeding, that we had a better chance of getting those better breeders.
“I said if I’m going to do it, then I’m going to buy the very, very best. I certainly spent the money to try make that happen.”
In search of these top genetics, Tommy headed to England, Scotland, Wales, France, Northern Ireland and of course throughout Ireland too.
Working off the principle that the day you buy is the day you sell, the Harte Peat name very quickly became recognised having paid out the top prices at a number of sales.
In the Limousin breed, purchases were made early on at the Dinmore production sale and the Thomastown dispersal.
On the Simmental front, purchases were made at the Sterling dispersal, along with the noted Woodhall, Strisla and Williams herds.
Females such as Curaheen Cheynenne, the mother of AI bull Gunshot, and Auroch Wave, mother of twice Highland Show champion Auroch Eve, were also purchased at the Curaheen dispersal in 2016.
The herd’s Charolais breeding programme was established with French females and complemented with embryo and heifer purchases from the Liscally, Goldies, Bostonia, Prime and Claregal herds.
Finally, the small Aberdeen Angus herd was established through the purchase of the high-seller Mercury J Flora at the Mercury herd dispersal sale in 2018.
This was then added to with embryo imports from Canada and other brood cow purchases.
Tommy said: “The colour of the cow or the breed of the cow didn’t make as much difference to me, rather the quality.
“We were very conscious of figures too and the majority of pedigree cows now have stars.
“There is no young cow on the farm that isn’t very able to rear her calf.”
Through as much AI usage as possible and an annual embryo transfer programme on select cows, numbers quickly rose to the 150 head seen in the Farney County today.
The clear focus at Harte Farms pedigree herd is on grass production and weight gain from grass.
Throughout the farm, the paddocks all look like carpets, with lush grass ahead of each cattle grouping. Tommy is very clear that this is where his real love lies.
“We bought 50 acres next door about six years ago. We also have a long term lease for another 50 acres with the guy who runs the farm for me now. So we have just shy of 200acres in one block now.
“About 75% of that block is suitable for intensive silage production, 25% of it is boggy fields and that’s why the 150 ewes are there too.
“I love looking at good-quality cows, but my passion is growing real good-quality grass. We are currently hitting over 80% DMD on some of the silage and some of that is because we do everything in-house. When I see grass nice and green and there’s good weather, it’s cut.”
This super grass growth and excellent grass silage made annually means that all the pedigrees are run commercially, with only young stock fed concentrates ahead of sale time. Running alongside the pedigrees is a commercial herd, with all animals treated the same.
However, a big announcement was made this year, as Tommy has made the decision to sell both the pedigree and commercial herds and put in milking robots.
“The last two years I’ve been looking at it and realising I’ve too big a farm and too many to achieve the high end in the pedigree game. What I see is all the top breeders have 15 or 20 cows, not 120. It’s too many to handle.
“I’ve had a number of head stockmen here since I began the pedigrees and to get someone who’s absolutely dedicated and put the effort in for the pedigree breeding is one of the most difficult things.
“The plan is to put in two robots and milk Fleckvieh on a predominately indoor system. A system like that, totally automated, even the feeding, will take a lot of the risk out of management.
“We also get a lot of rain in Monaghan, so some of the land gets extremely wet very quickly.
“The reason for going high-end Fleckvieh is that I’m told they are substantially easier managed, with a lot better cull value. I’m hoping that after two or three years I’ll have a cow with a 9,000-litre yield on max 2t of concentrate.”
The commercial cows will be offered for sale in Elphin this Monday 19 July. This will include 25 cows with calves at foot that are back in-calf along with 10 in-calf heifers and 10 maiden heifers. All these commercial animals are genotyped, with AI breeding featuring a lot in their lineage.
The pedigree dispersal will take place on-farm on Saturday 24 July. This sale will include 150 head of pedigree stock across four breeds, along with a large number of embryo and semen lots.
Included in the sale are 30 in-calf cows, 39 cows with calves at foot, 13 in-calf heifers, 12 maiden heifers, 17 weanling bulls and heifers, along with eight recipients carrying embryos.
The herd is part of the CHECs verified Limo leader health scheme and has also been a participant of whole herd performance recording since it was launched. The sale also includes free transport to Britain and Northern Ireland. Both sales will have online bidding available through the Irish Farmers Journal Martbids App. Further details can be found on the Harte Farm Coraghy herd Facebook page.