French genes come into their own for Vendéen top of the flocks

Ciaran Cough­lan has com­bined semen from the breed’s na­tive ter­rain with the pick of Ir­ish stock to nur­ture the best Vendéen flock in the coun­try, writes Martin Ryan

Irish Independent - Farming - - PEDIGREE AND SALES -

THE flock of the year ac­co­lade is the most cov­eted ti­tle in any breed and it is an even greater chal­lenge to re­tain it against the cream of the crop in the Vendéens.

Ciaran Cough­lan from Fer­bane, Co Of­faly has won the Ven­deen Flock of the Year Award for the last two years and his Nog­gus flock look sure to be in reck­on­ing for more awards on the show cir­cuit in 2018.

The Of­faly live­stock and sheep farmer didn’t ven­ture into keep­ing pedi­gree Ven­deen un­til 2003. Yet well planned breed­ing and good man­age­ment has taken his flock into the elite of the breed in the coun­try in a rel­a­tively short time.

“In 2003, I bought a ram lamb and used him on a few ewes in the flock and I was very, very im­pressed by the prog­eny from them, so I de­cided then to try a few more ewes and went on from there to build up the flock,” says Ciaran.

He bought semen from care­fully se­lected breed­ing lines in France on two oc­ca­sions — 2014 and last year — which con­trib­uted a lot to the flock de­vel­op­ment.

“I got bet­ter milk and bet­ter conformation mus­cle wise from the im­ported breed­ing which has done a lot for the flock,” he ex­plains.

“I also bought stock at a few of the breed­ers sales, in par­tic­u­lar from the late Tony Keneghan when the clear­ance sale was held at Tul­lam­ore, and also from Jim Boland be­cause both of these flocks had bred All-Ire­land cham­pi­ons ewes and they had very good breed­ing.”

About seven to eight years ago he started en­ter­ing sheep at the shows around the coun­try.

“At the start it was great to get any prize. I re­mem­ber the first year that I got fifth place for a ram at Tul­lam­ore and I thought it was mar­vel­lous to be among the win­ners, and now I take it for granted when I get first place quite reg­u­larly,” says Ciaran.

“If I am beaten now it is more of a shock for me. I love to see other peo­ple win­ning, too, but you can get so used to win­ning when a good flock is built up that you al­most take it for granted be­cause you know that the breed­ing is good.”

He ad­mits that it was a slow process from the start to build the qual­ity flock and it took time, “but it was some­thing that I en­joyed and it was nice to be do­ing a lit­tle bet­ter each year”.

He still re­mem­bers very clearly when he brought home first prize for the first time “be­cause that was very spe­cial to me at that time”.

Nowa­days, he is a reg­u­lar ex­hibitor at up to eight shows each year with Tul­lam­ore, Lim­er­ick, Clon­mel, Athlone, Mullingar, Bon­ni­con­lon and Trim all on his sched­ule.

“It is not un­usual now to be show­ing sheep at some venue ev­ery se­cond Sun­day, and I like to catch the hurl­ing and foot­ball matches on the Sun­days in-be­tween,” he says.

In 2016, he won the Vendéen Show Flock of the Year for the first time, say­ing “that was great be­cause the com­pe­ti­tion was very stiff.

“It was in the bal­ance for some time be­tween Ch­eryl O’Brien (Cork), who was go­ing for the ti­tle for the fourth year in a row, and my­self, and it was hard to know which way it was go­ing to go right to the end.

“I sup­pose it was a bit more spe­cial to win it when I was up against a pos­si­ble four-in-a-row, but Ch­eryl was not an easy one to beat be­cause she had been very suc­cess­ful at the shows over those years and she has great stock,” he says.

“I was a good bit more ahead in re­tain­ing the ti­tle last year, but I sup­pose they will be all out to get me this year. It is go­ing to be a chal­lenge to re­tain it, but I will be try­ing hard to make it three-in-a-row.”

In ad­di­tion to the Flock of the Year award, Ciaran’s other win­ners last year in­cluded: se­nior ram, Tul­lam­ore; cham­pion for a ewe lamb, cham­pion and re­serve at Lim­er­ick; sim­i­lar suc­cess at Bon­ni­con­lon; male cham­pion at Mullingar, and cham­pion at Athlone.

“We have our pre­mier breed­ers sale in July and it is harder to keep up the stan­dard af­ter that be­cause some of them have been sold on,” he says.

The suc­cess at the shows has been matched with ex­cep­tion­ally good prices at the sheep sales.

At Sheep Ire­land he re­ceived the se­cond high­est price of €910 for a Ven­deen ram, Feb­ru­ary 2017-born Nog­gus Robben, which was bought by Michael McGrath, Monelia, Mullingar.

The half twin, which was cham­pion of breed at Tul­lam­ore Show, is by the reign­ing All-Ire­land Male Cham­pion and win­ner of nu­mer­ous other show awards. Ciaran also re­ceived €910 for an en­try at the Vendéen Breed­ers Elite Sale.

“I am hope­ful of do­ing rea­son­ably well this year with some nice lambs bred from French AI,” he says.

“The Vendéen are very good for easy lamb­ing and they are hardy for cop­ing with the weather, and the lambs can be let out very quick. While other sheep would be very bare, I find that the Vendéen would have a nice bit of wool cover and they are hardier for the weather. They have very good growth rates.”

Be­side the award-win­ning flock, he runs a flock of 90 com­mer­cial ewes and a calf to beef en­ter­prise of 30 head.

Out­side of the farm he has been ac­tively in­volved in the Vendéen Sheep So­ci­ety as their na­tional chair­man for the past year and is cur­rently a mem­ber of the Na­tional Coun­cil, the gov­ern­ing body.

He says that the so­ci­ety is con­tin­u­ing to at­tract new breed­ers each year and he ex­pects the trend to con­tinue.

I GOT BET­TER MILK AND BET­TER CONFORMATION FROM THE IM­PORTED BREED­ING

Ciaran Cough­lan with judge Richie Allen at last year’s Tul­lam­ore Show

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