Michael Oliver, similar to most farmers across the west of Ireland, farms part-time. He juggles breeding pedigree Limousin and Simmental cattle alongside breeding pedigree Beltex, Blue Leicester and Vendéen sheep, while running a scanning and bull fertility testing business where he covers most of Connaught every week.
“I prefer the Limousins, however my daughters like the Simmentals, so there is always a bit of competition around here,” Michael said.
“I try to breed what the farmer wants and that is quality coupled with easy calving and that way I rarely end up with bulls left over each year.”
Prior to pedigree beef cattle, Michael ran a pedigree Friesian herd, where he was successful at a young age competing in the national interclub stock judging finals at the age of 16. This ended up being the hook which brought him into the pedigree beef world. Michael started breeding pedigree beef cattle in 1990, when he bought his first Simmental animals followed by a Limousin cow and calf. He now runs his two herds under the well-known Lisnacrann prefix.
Michael said: “I’m a firm believer in buying quality to breed quality and judging an animal in the flesh before you even open a sales catalogue.” He’s not afraid to invest in top genetics, forking out €10,500 for the cow Monaduff Jewel. She had stacks of breeding and it proved a successful purchase, as she went on to breed one son and two grandsons in AI.
The herd received a top price of €10,000 for a Simmental bull Lisnacrann Demetrios, a Kilbride Farm Newry son out of a daughter of Monaduff Jewels. One of Michael’s proudest moments was with a Limousin bull, where a bull bred in Lisnacrann topped the Tully test centre list in 1995 and set a performance record that stood for a decade, with the bull having a beef merit index of 133. While in Tully, the bull gained 2.2kg/day and had a 400-day weight of 469kg.
In terms of the sheep end of the farm, Michael first imported Vendéen sheep from France in 1989. These imported sheep set a base for his small pedigree flock where he now concentrates on breeding Beltex and Blue Leicester alongside the Vendéens.
“Sheep can be hard work at times, but keeping small numbers and doing everything right with them makes it worthwhile,” Michael said.
It’s a team effort in Lisnacrann, with Michael having the help of his daughters Niamh and Saoirse, wife Breda and son Oisin. The next generation have also caught the showing bug, with Niamh and Saoirse involved in showing and breeding both sheep and cattle.
“We all love the shows, it’s sort of in the blood and you can’t get away from it. They are an important part of rural Ireland. You just can’t beat the buzz you get on a show day and that sort of drives you to try and improve your quality year on year.
“There’s nothing better than a bit of competition, but at the end of the day, shows are a great social outing for a lot of pedigree breeders and winning or losing shouldn’t get in the way of a good day – that’s what they say anyway!”
Michael runs his own scanning and bull fertility testing business, where he covers most of Connacht with a main focus on the Mayo and Sligo areas. Scanning suits farming, as it is fairly flexible, allowing Michael to work to his own hours. In recent years, it’s been getting busier and this has added an extra workload, which he says has affected the farm a little.
“I try to get at least one full day off during the week for my own farm work – if I didn’t, everything would be put on the long finger and nothing would get finished,” Michael said.
As well as scanning and fertility testing, Michael has a keen interest in sport, as he used to compete in athletics games and boxing and now is a boxing coach in his local club.
“I love sport and I think it’s really good for your mental health, as well as the obvious benefits for your physical health. I loved boxing and running, so I always knew I’d want to coach when I called it quits on my own competitive journey,” Michael said. He added that he always felt growing up that it was important for farmers to socialise and sport was the way he did this: “Farming can be an isolated life if you let it be that way.”
Michael outlined how he hopes to keep the herd around the 15 suckler cows in the future, alongside 25 to 30 ewes and followers with these comprising of recipients for some embryo transfer work in the sheep. He has seen a greater emphasis on sheep in his area in the last 12 months and he reckons this will continue.
“The pedigree sheep sector has been on fire this year. I think the sheep trade will stay good. I’d like to try my hand at some newer breeds such as Spotted Dutch or Badger Face,” Michael said.
“I am very hopeful that some of the children will be interested in the farm when it’s time for me to retire. It’s in the back of your head all the time and I would love to see the next generation still farming here in Lisnacrann.”