Garrett Behan alongside his wife Lyndsey and father Tom run the Clonagh and Jennalyn pedigree herds outside Ballyfin in Co. Laois. The herd came from humble beginnings with the first pedigree Simmental bought near 30 years ago by Garrett’s mother Mary. Since then the herd has made a remarkable reputation for itself, not only in Ireland but across Europe.
While the herd has held pedigree cattle since 1989, it was primarily dairy focused until the Friesian herd was sold in 2001. The herd now sees nearly 100 beef cows calving down with a mix of pedigree Simmental, Limousin, Angus and Charolais residing at the Laois farm. Simmental however takes pride of place with nearly 65 natural calves born per year and a further 15 Simmental calves by embryo transfer.
“In 1989 my mother Mary bought the first cow, Clough Sandra at the RDS, with a heifer calf at foot. We added about 10 or 12 more Simmental females, all in the early 90’s. Most the current lines were built up from these with the odd one added since but not too many.
“My own very first one was Wanda which cost £2,000 at the time, like most from my first Holy Communion and confirmation money. She was born in 1989 she came from the Clonaslee herd up the road. She definitely has left the largest number of daughters in the herd.”
Although not adding many lines through the years, those Clonagh have bought left an impact.
“I bought Milton Senhorita as a 10 day old baby calf for €4,000 at a sale in 2005. She has grossed in my estimation from her own direct calves about €65-70,000 worth of sales. She was bought on a recipient and her full sister Majesty would’ve held the then record of €21,000. We have since bought two more full sisters into the herd, one at €5,000 at Roscommon two years ago and Lyndsey bought another. If I could’ve got my hands on any of the rest of them I would’ve bought them as well.
“You talk about herds, it’s a herd of cows. I like females to be big and correct and good looking because if you keep the female lines right it’s easy to get bulls working right.”
“The best line, I would’ve always said the Wanda line was the best in the herd but it’s being questioned now by two other lines, the Sandra line and the Senhorita line. They are by far the three best in the herd.”
The herd was originally based on AI bloodlines with standout bulls still notable in the pedigrees of the herd’s matron cows.
“We would’ve used all AI at the start for a good few years, using lines of Hillcrest Butcher. Hillcrest Butcher to me, regardless of what ICBF say about him, is one of the best cow breeding bulls in the country.
“Then we would’ve had a stock bull called Ballybane Edward who was a Hillcrest butcher son. They left me females that bred most of the cows that are here today.
“Going through the years then we would’ve used bulls in AI with Dovea, Progressive and around other places. We used stock bulls then to clean up for a number of years before we bought Banwy T-Rex. I purchased him in November 2007 at the old Perth mart.”
T-Rex was something different, as it was this bull that was set to take the Clonagh herd to the next level. “He was bought for £8,500 sterling but in euros that was €12,500. By the time he was home and insured it was €15,000. That was the biggest investment in the herd by a long shot.
“His breeder Dafydd Jones said that bull made me and other people would say I made Dafydd Jones. But in essence that bull made the both of us.
“He was the male champion at the All-Ireland finals in Limerick in 2008 and he was the only animal of any breed to win Tullamore three years in a row. His last year being shown in 2011 he was 1865kgs. He is a total curve bender with regard calving ease and carcase weight. He is very easy calving with very high carcase weight and usually they don’t go hand and hand.
“I wasn’t here when the first few calves hit the ground, but my father rang me up and basically said they were the worst description of calves he had ever seen in his life. Other breeders who used him told me the same, but they grew and those same calves turned around and made €5-6000.
“He bred bulls for us to €10,400 and his daughters have bred females to €12,100. I would’ve sold a lot out of him but I suppose there’s 20 daughters still in the herd off him. His daughter Clonagh Dora the Explorer won the overall National title twice and another daughter Clonagh Darling Eyes won the overall national in 2017. He was a real cow maker.”
Since then the herd has invested heavily in stock bulls to use across the herd, focusing on bulls with feminine traits.
Kilbride Farm Dragoon was purchased privately from the Robson family. His pedigree was an ideal cross for our herd and he also came with an impressive set of performance figures behind him having scanned at 142, the highest scan ever at Kilbride giving him an eye muscle of +7.2, which ranks him in the top 0.01% for the breed. This exceptional clean bodied bull with extreme muscle described by most as a Limousin in Simmental colours. Never have we seen a Simmental with the muscle and shape of this bull. A clean body from his sweet feminine head to toe. First daughters calved down with ease and plenty of milk with beautiful udders. Unfortuntely no longer with us due to injury. Limited semen available.
“We bought Bruchag Glenfiddich last year. I saw a picture of him online, kind of liked the look of him so we flew over to see him. He is a big long powerful bull with a nice small head, first calves are hitting the ground now and so far we’re very happy. Need a little bit more time to say he is suitable for heifers because there’s only six or seven calves off him. I don’t think you’d advise any bull on that amount of calvings.
“I bought Derreen Declan then last spring solely on his breeding and his figures. His grandsire Glebefarm Tyson has very high figures and can’t be got, and he is a T-Rex son. These two bulls were doing very good jobs and when you have the cross of the two of them there should be a serious market there for him.
“I went to Stirling last October not looking for bull, but I was always told you buy a bull the day you don’t want a bull. World Class I had bought back two years before and he was after getting hurt and you need something young and spare coming up so when I saw Manor Park Hansome at Stirling I reckoned I had to bring this bull home. He was the youngest bull in the sale and he was doing 1.93kgs/day, and still doing it, he is just touching 1,100kgs now at 17 months.”
Clonagh Simmentals were the successful bidder on the bull that day paying 22,000gns!
Showing and sales are monumental to the herds success. Throughout the years and in particular the last 10 the herd has achieved unrivalled success. In the past nine National finals the herd has claimed the overall title at six of them including the champion and reserve in 2010.
“It’s a fierce amount of work I wouldn’t mind giving it up for a year. Saying that, someone said to me recently you have your name made now you can pull away from showing but if you’ve a cow outside fit to be overall champion, it’s an insult to the animal not to be there.”
Article courtesy of the Irish Farmers Journal
The show herd was established in 2003 from our first crop of AI calves. We started off on a good note with our top two calves Napper and Neva winning both their respective calf finals and numerous individual breed titles. Napper was crowned the National Yearling Bull Champion that year and Neva took the Reserve spot in the National Yearling Heifer finals.
Our main achievements in the show ring to date include: