Murtagh Walls Feature
Murtagh Walls and his family farm at the picturesque foothills of the Cock and Hen Mountains in the Mournes, close to Hilltown, Co Down. He is the third generation to be farming in this area and is helped on the farm by his wife Geraldine, son Niall who is also a trainee mechanic, and daughter Aisling, who as well as being a first year law student at the University of Ulster, keeps the farm accounts. Their eldest son Michael is an accountant and their other daughter Colleen is a hairdresser.
Murtagh is committed to farming. He strongly believes that Limousin breeding, the management and feeding of the cattle to maximise performance from grass is vital if he wants to continue to efficiently produce quality beef. Murtagh has been a Focus Farmer since the Focus Farm Project – a unique farmer-led training initiative – was launched in March 2004. This project was funded by the EU Programme for Peace and Reconciliation and allowed groups of farmers the opportunity to visit and learn from ‘Focus farmers’. Murtagh’s key element was demonstrating how to produce quality Limousin beef efficiently from grass as well as demonstrating good production methods, environmental awareness, animal welfare and farm business practices. He was the Ulster Grassland Society Beef Farmer of the Year in 2005 and 2006 and recently came third in the heavy steers section of the Northern Ireland Limousin Carcase Competition with a 22 month, E3 animal killing at 406kgs.
Murtagh benchmarks his farm business with Greenmount’s benchmarking service and is presently in the top 10% of all beef and sheep farms recording through the CAFRE system for the year ending March 2007. Benchmarking allows Murtagh to compare his farm business with the ‘best-in-class’ and allows him to make the correct decisions to further improve his business and stay competitive.
Murtagh farms 65 hectares, all of which is in the LFA (40% severely disadvantaged) and within the ESA – so farming in an environmentally friendly manner is also one of his key aims. He has 50 suckler cows on the farm, mainly Limousin crosses out of West of Ireland cows – 30 calve in the spring and the rest in the autumn. There is also a flock of 80 ewes, mainly Lleyn X Texel crossed back to Texel. All the premium quality lambs are sold direct to Dunbia in Dungannon. With land reaching 600 feet above sealevel (Goward Hill) Murtagh says he wants a cow that is hardy and easy to manage and is capable of rearing a high quality calf. On this farm the Limousin cross has proven to be the ideal suckler cow with good milking ability and a quiet temperament which Murtagh regards as vital on any suckler farm.
The spring calves are born inside and turned out within a few days. Although the calving pens are close to the dwelling house, Murtagh says he rarely gives assistance at calving and the calves are quickly on their feet and looking for a suck. To improve the quality of replacement heifers, Murtagh has used AI bulls focussing on positive milk EBVs such as Shire Milton, Ulysse, Farfelu and Cockleshell Olympus on the better cows but recently he has moved away from AI as he has sufficient replacements coming on. Calves from his new bull, Newhillfarm Aaron, purchased at the 2006 April Sale in Dungannon are really impressive and Murtagh is very pleased with their conformation. Newhillfarm Aaron is a BQI Elite Carcase Bull (in the top 1% of the breed) and was bred locally by Mick and Anne McPolin, Cabra, Newry. Aaron is by Nenuphar and out of their home bred cow Newhillfarm Robin, a Bapton Javelin daughter.
Spring born calves are weaned in October, while autumn calves are weaned by June, but it depends on the quantity of grass at that time of the year. All the calves are creep fed prior to weaning. Calves are wormed in late spring and vaccinated with Rispoval 4 at weaning. Over the winter the heifers are fed high quality silage and 1kg of a mixture of rolled barley and maize gluten, and then finished off grass at 310 – 320kgs. The male calves are either finished as bulls at 14 months or as steers at 22 months, both at 370 – 400kgs. The bulls and steers go to ABP, Newry with the heifers heading to a local butcher.
Murtagh puts great emphasis on getting high performance at grass and he believes the Limousin is well suited to this system of finishing. He is right and the daily performance is exceptionally good considering the farm is in the LFA with daily liveweight for steers 0.99kg/day, heifers 0.92kg/day and bulls at 1.62kgs/day. But it is the grading results that shows how successful his breeding, management and feeding has been. Murtagh has improved his grading from 90% in 1999 to 100% E, U and R grades last year (the steer which finished 3rd in the recent Limousin Carcase competition killed E3 and weighed 406kgs deadweight).
The table below is a summary of the stock sold in his last ‘benchmarking’ year, ending March 2007 Murtagh feels the future for beef production is uncertain, but he still will look at ways to improve his income.
His breeding, husbandry and health practices are all first class and it has resulted in him being able to produce quality stock suitable for any market. In fact Murtagh decided to sell 9 (Autumn 2006) heifers and 17 (April 2007) bulls recently for export to the high value Italian market through a local shipping agent. The autumn born heifers weighed 480kgs and last year’s bull calves averaged 410kgs (1.25kgs/day) with the heaviest at 510kgs (DOB 05/04/07) Limousin is the breed for him. He says that the Limousin can provide the right type of carcase with good conformation, a high killing out percentage and a high yield of saleable meat which is demanded by local butchers, supermarkets and the premium continental markets.