Eamonn Duffy’s success as a pedigree Suffolk breeder over the past three decades is testament to his commitment to the breed and his meticulous approach to building his “Kells” flock into the best in the land.

 

When Eamonn and his wife, Anne Marie were presented with the Suffolk Flock of the Year 2017 at the Open Day on their farm at Ethelstown, Kells, Co. Meath ten days ago, it was the culmination of “a lot of hard work” and an equal proportion of careful selection of the best breeding stock over the decades.

 

The judge for the competition this year was Jim Jeffrey, a well known breeder of suffolks from Co Cork and the Jack Mc Culloch Memorial Trophy was presented by Harry Kellett a previous winner of the Suffiolk Flock of the Year (2003) Competition.

 

Since the “Kells” pedigree flock was founded thirty-seven years ago by my father Edward with the purchase of ten breeding ewes at the pedigree sale in Roscommon Mart, a policy of selecting only the best stock for breeding has been consistently adhered to year in and year out.

 

“I felt all of the time that the only way to go was to stick with selection of the best breeding stock that I could get, which is what I did,  because I wanted to see improvement in the flock every year, and that was the only way to go” he said, feeling a sense of having achieved his ambition, which the Flock of the Year Award recognised.

 

To-day, the flock comprise of 130 head, which impressed breeders who turned out for the open day because “they couldn’t believe it was possible to get a flock of that size so even” and that is down to the selection and culling which has been followed in this flock over the decades, while at the same time building up to becoming the largest Pedigree Suffolk flock in Ireland or the UK.

 

Second best was never going to be good enough for Eamonn and Anne Marie when it came to what they wanted to achieve for the Suffolk breed and in particular for their pedigree Suffolk flock.

 

“We were trying to breed the tops all of the time and seeing how they came up  – our target was to breed a perfect flock of sheep” said Eamonn.

 

 

“We kept buying in from the top flocks all of the time to get the top rams, that bred good long lambs, that were easily fleshed and with good tight wool all over the years” he said.

 

“We bought in a lot of home bred rams over the years from some to the top flocks here and got some very good sheep from Herbert Stanley’s flock in Co Laois” he added recalling the progress made.

 

He has been very committed to the purchase of breeding stock from the top flocks both in Ireland and Scotland and “was always comparing them against our own and it gave me an indication of where we were at with our own sheep”.

 

“We found that the Lamb Plus was brilliant because if there was anything like difficult lambing or slow to finish -whatever the problem is  – we could pick out them breeding ewes and cull them from the flock and that helped us enormously to improve the flock the only way to get a flock to the top” he explained.

 

Sires used in the flock that stand out includes Glenho Pajero bought in 2003 that put length into the females,  Errigal Dundee the Novice Champion at Roscrea in 2010 that added height, power and colour into the flock, and Limestone Tom and Limestone Mr Muscle both sons of Muirton One Direction that  cost 19,000gns in 2014 and proved excellent for breeding great long easy fleshed lambs with good carcase, skin, style and great colours.

 

“Our plan is to keep the Suffolk up at the top on the star ratings for both Maternal and Replacement indices and the right Suffolk can do both” says Eamonn.  The proof of his success in this regard is over 60pc of the Kells flock rates double five star on the indices, a rare achievement for a flock of this scale.

 

“We select 25-30 of the top ewe  lambs  every year and they are retained in the flock.  They kept bringing the standard of the flock up and up all of the time by selecting from the very top end. ”It takes years of hard work, picking the correct sheep, buying the correct sheep and then picking the sheep that is suited to your flock and then picking the right type of ram to suit the flock,” says Eamonn.

 

“You could pay €20,000 for a ram and you could buy another for €1,500 and he would do a better job.  The trick is buying the right type of sheep.  The first thing I would look for is length – a nice level correct top-line, a good back end, tight wool, and a clean head”.

 

The consistency in the flock performance has been very impressive and the general comment of those attending the open day on the farm was that the accolade of Flock of the Year being handed over came as no surprise “because we could see this flock getting better every year and it was only a matter of when, and not if”, it would receive the most coveted annual award in the breed.

 

Many had also observed the consistent price range for stock from the flock at sales over the past decade and a half in particular during which the ‘Kells’ rams averages were rarely outside of the top three on the day, with averages usually within €700-€800 range and a top price of €1,700 recorded. Eamonn sells an average of 70 ram lambs each year.

 

The flock has produced a generous measure of award winners over the years for showing classes, including the Novice Champion in 2014 and several awards at agricultural shows.

 

 

Eamonn points out that the commercial breeder is his target market at the sales.

 

“I find that the commercial farmers love our type of sheep ones that are easily fleshed and come to the market early. I have thought about the commercial farmers since I started breeding Suffolks because it is all about the return that they get when they are sending their lambs to the factories” he says.

 

“ About 96pc of rams will go to commercial flocks and that is why we kept breeding our sheep on a definite line.  We could have gone a different route and bred for the breeder, but they are only in the market for 4pc of rams and what would you do with the rest of them”. “The Suffolk rams are great for cross breeding. When Suffolk rams are crossed with Cheviot, Charolais, Texel and Mule ewes they made excellent replacement stock – they are a lovely cross and that suits the commercial breeder” he went on to say.

 

Breeders will have another to opportunity to view some of the flock when the Annual Ram Lamb Sale from the flock takes place at Carnaross Mart, Kells, Co. Meath on Tuesday September 5th at 1pm.

 

So what is the future of the flock? Eamonn says he plans to maintain flock size at the present level and he is aiming to take some of the breeding flock to the Carlisle Sales.

 

“We are going to continue to breed for the commercial farmer and I believe if they are good enough for the commercial producer they are good enough for the breeder”.

 

The flock is run alongside a commercial suckler herd with all the progeny being finished for the beef market.