This year’s annual Gigginstown House Aberdeen-Angus Sale took place at Fennor Farm, Mullingar on Easter Saturday, April 20th. Farm families from all over Ireland travelled to the midlands to see the magnificent stock prepared by farm manager Joe O’Mahony and his team. Irish Tractor & Agri had a chat with the affable Cork man who has been overseeing Gigginstown Farm for twenty years.
Gigginstown Farm in Delvin, County Westmeath encompasses a block of five farms and covers a total of 1,100 acres. The farm, which is owned by Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary, is of course synonymous with the maroon and white silks of the famous Gigginstown House Stud racing operation. It’s not all about horses, however, as pedigree cattle also have a prominent presence here…
The Gigginstown House Angus Herd was established in 1997, the mission to develop an elite pedigree herd by investing in the very best genetics. They started out with champions from the Edmonton and Regina shows as well as the top herds in Western Canada. To these were added the best genetics in Ireland and Britain.
Over the years, the Gigginstown House Angus herd has consistently enjoyed show ring success as well as huge commercial appeal.
As they are rigorously focussed on quality, Gigginstown House Angus continue to provide Irish, UK and European Angus breeders with the opportunity to introduce new bloodlines and add real quality at tremendous value to their pedigree and commercial herds. All animals are sold with a breeding guarantee and all bulls are fertility tested prior to sale.
For two decades now, Joe O’Mahony from Drimoleague in West Cork has been the farm manager at Gigginstown, looking after the magnificent herd of pedigree and commercial Angus cattle.
This year’s Gigginstown House Aberdeen-Angus Sale comprised of 25 bulls and 20 heifers (including in-calf heifers and maiden heifers), with almost 100% clearance achieved across both bulls and heifers. A high-quality group of bulls is selected every year to meet the demands of both beef breeders and pedigree buyers, although Joe has recently noticed a decided increase in interest from dairy farmers in the Angus breed.
The annual Gigginstown House Angus Sale every Spring brings many repeat customers to the pristine Westmeath farm, buyers flocking from Northern Ireland, Cork, Kerry, Limerick, Dublin and surrounding counties. Joe is happy to deliver stock to anywhere in Ireland.
“The sale went well in a very difficult market and we got nearly full clearance,” he confirms. “We have a lot of repeat customers who know they are getting both quality and value for money. The annual sale is effectively the showcase for our herd and we always put a lot of effort into it.
“Gigginstown has always been family-orientated and the Gigginstown House Angus Sale is a family day out, with bouncy castles and a nice welcoming atmosphere for people who have travelled long distances.
“As a very busy bloodstock and livestock farm, we’ve always found it difficult to take our cattle to sales so we organise our own and then sell on the farm to private individuals for the remainder of the year.
“Michael has a real gra for the Angus breed and he likes to see them doing well. We calve 150 cows and then you have followers on top of that. We sell the bulls at 16-20 months in the Spring.”
Everything about the Gigginstown House Angus herd – and the farm itself – smacks of quality. “You have to instil the very highest levels of quality and you also have to try to do it all as efficiently as possible,” Joe notes. “Everything here is done on a commercial basis and you have to keep an eye on costs. We buy in our store cattle in the Autumn and you keep them on grass as much as you can.
“You’re looking for a thick sward of grass. Obviously you’ll always look at the science of achieving this but, because we have a low stocking rate, we wouldn’t be tight for grass. We always have a good dense sward.
“We make haylage instead of baled silage because it’s a better product and it’s also easier to transport and sell on.”
With a multitude of major winners down through the years, including notable Cheltenham Gold Cup and Aintree Grand National successes as well as capturing the champion National Hunt owners title in Ireland seven times, Gigginstown Stud has been capturing the headlines for years. But everyone was caught off guard by the story that broke in May of this year when it was announced that Gigginstown House Stud would be winding down its racing operation “over an extended four or five-year period” and would not be purchasing any more stores or young horses.
Thus, while the operation will have its usual representation on the track in the coming seasons, they won’t be adding to their ranks in the future. However, in the short to medium term, little will change for the farm manager, who will remain as busy as ever overseeing the magnificent Angus herd:
“Most farmers are busy,” Joe states. “That’s the nature of farming. There’s no easy money to be made at it. It’s a numbers game and you have to be on your game. You have to be doing everything as efficiently as you possibly can.
“But there’s added value in pedigree and Angus is one animal that there will always be a market for. Dairy and beef farmers like them. They have short gestation, easy calving and offer a quality meat product due to the marbling. Farmers are being encouraged to keep smaller animals and factories want smaller carcasses. So we’re lucky really that this is the breed we have.
“Michael started out with Angus and he really likes that breed. A bit like the airline, they are cheap and cheerful but also high quality and there’s a big market for them, with a low cost of production off grass and you can finish them at 16-20 months.”
Things have come a long way for the esteemed Gigginstown House Aberdeen-Angus herd since Cork men Michael and Joe started out with around 40 cows two decades ago. Today, there are some 500 cattle on the farm at any given time…
“We’re no different than any other farm – you run it as a commercial operation and try to be as efficient as you possibly can,” Joe concludes. “You are dictated to by the weather. When the weather is good, everything is perfect but you have 101 jobs. Spring is the best time of year: the grass is springing out of the ground and there’s hope everywhere and no shortage of jobs to be taken care of.”
Taken from Irish Tractor & Agri magazine Vol 7 No 5, September/October 2019