I live on a suckler and sheep farm just outside Ballyconnell, in Co Cavan. I am 10 years old and I have three brothers. James is 12, Andrew is eight and Robert is four.
We keep pedigree Charolais and Aberdeen Angus cows and some commercial suckler cows. We sell the bulls around 16 months and the heifers around the same age. We sell our commercial weanlings in Carrigallen Mart on Saturdays. This year we also purchased some Blue Texel ewes to graze along with the cattle.
Credit union draw
I have a credit union account in Ballyconnell where I put birthday money and other bits. Last Christmas my father got a phone call to say I had won €1,000 in the Christmas draw. I was over the moon with that. We have been at home for a lot of 2020 and have been able to help out a bit more on the farm and I have always wanted my own animals so I decided I wanted to spend my €1,000 and a bit along with it on cattle.
Suckler cows are very dear at the moment so I wouldn’t have been able to buy much for €1,000. It was the same story with store cattle and weanlings so I decided I would look at calves. We hadn’t reared calves before so we didn’t have a lot of the things needed for the job. I found an old calf feeder with 12 holes for teats but the teats were torn and had to be replaced. I went online and googled peach teats and found what I was looking for on the Fane Valley online shop.
I also purchased a whisk, two blue buckets for mixing milk replacer and 12 peach teats. The bill came to €75 and they were posted to us at the house. Before we purchased calves I also bought two bags of Auctus milk replacer from Agridirect in Ballyconnell. These cost €40 each with each calf taking just under a bag each to rear.
We decided Carrigallen Mart was the handiest to buy in. It takes place on a Saturday so we could go up and have a look at the calves. We were buying during COVID-19 restrictions so we had to be up in the mart for the viewing time between 10am and 11am.
We walked through the calves and picked ones we liked. We were looking for Aberdeen Angus and Hereford heifers. Traditional breeds will be easier finished and heifers will also finish quicker so that’s why we opted for them.
I got into the pens and checked the navels. If a calf has a hard navel, it could have an infection and wouldn’t be a good buy. I also looked around the tail for signs of scour. I was talking to an old man at the mart one day and he told me to “look for a calf with a good bright eye” and that’s what I did.
We would pick out eight to 10 calves we liked and wrote them down on a piece of paper. We checked who was selling the calves in the mart office. The sale started at 11am and everybody had to go outside when it started. We only live 20 minutes from the mart so we generally go home and keep an eye on the phone.
When a calf came into the ring, we checked the number of moves. If it had two or more moves we didn’t buy them as they could be dealer’s calves or problem calves. I set a budget of €200-€250 a calf but that went out the window soon. When you start bidding, it’s hard to stop hitting the button. It took us four trips to the mart to get our 10 calves, six Hereford heifers and four Aberdeen Angus heifers were bought. They were all aged between four and six weeks at purchase and averaged €248/head. They were a bit dearer than we would have liked but we thought there might be less problems with an older calf and they mightn’t need as much milk replacer.
We started the calves off easy with a weak mixture of milk replacer. They then moved up to three litres of milk each day made up using 875ml of warm water and 125 grams of milk replacer. Calves had access to water, hay and calf meal and always had a good clean bed of straw. The calf crunch costs €10/bag. They started off in the sheep shed which is closed in and once all cows had calved they moved out to the calving pens which are more open to get them ready for the outdoors.
I’m very happy with them. They are very quiet and easy to work with. We were worried they might get scour or pneumonia but they didn’t get anything. I like looking up AI bulls for the sucklers and I would love to know what bulls the calves are off. None of the calves we purchased have any sires but we might genotype them to see what they are off.
This summer I am going to clean and powerwash out the shed to get ready for next year and get money to buy more calves. I’d like to rear more calves next year but I might have to save up as I won’t be selling these for a while.