Although only in their fifth year of showing pedigree Herefords, the Bowen family are making a name for themselves on the show circuit, and in 2019 they took the breed championship at the Royal Welsh Show. Laura Bowyer reports.
The name L. and L. Bowen has become familiar in Hereford cattle circles over a relatively short period of time, with the Bowendu herd only established in 2016.
Lyn and Leslie are the names behind the initials, while son Adam is often seen on the steering end of the cattle in the show ring and is the driving force behind the new venture at Ty Du Farm, Nelson, Glamorgan.
Having taken the Royal Welsh breed championship in 2019 with Auckvale 1 Curly 1725R, you could say this young breeder’s career has peaked.
But at 27 years old, it is only just getting started. In July 2019, the Bowens were not sure if they were going to make the Royal Welsh Show. Being in the middle of a period of good weather, there was grass to cut in the South Wales Valleys and their contracting clientele to service.
Adam says: “We very nearly did not make it to the show, but we are so glad we did.
“We were over the moon to have won the breed championship at Builth. Never did we think that would happen, particularly so early on in our time in the breed.”
Lyn adds: “And for a family from Wales to win at the Royal Welsh in its 100th year, it was just a dream come true.”
Running 60 hectares (148 acres), alongside an established plant hire, waste management and contracting business, this family is certainly kept busy.
The cattle enterprise is run separately, but their presence at shows is often dictated by workloads elsewhere.
Until recently, Ty Du had not been home to any cattle for many years, with Adam never before having handled the animals, but instead Nelson-type Welsh Mountain sheep, a hardy breed prevalent in their ex-coal mining area of South Wales.
The family began with two cross-bred heifers and they just got used to having the animals about. At the same time, they spent a lot of time researching Herefords, following what type of animals did well at sales and similarly in the show ring. They also selected a few breeders to visit and view animals for potential purchase.
In a bid to start their pedigree herd, they took a trip in the summer of 2016 to visit the home of the Dendor herd at Caersws, Powys where they met the Jones family, who they say have been a huge help through the establishment of their herd.
After viewing the cattle, they purchased a heifer, Dendor 1 Ruby 23, and a cow in-calf, Dendor 1 Holly 7, with its calf at-foot.
In their first year with Dendor 1 Ruby 23rd, they travelled locally to Bedwellty Show where it won native champion, followed by Llangynidr, where it took the same accolade, before heading to one of the area’s latest shows of the year at Usk, where it stood reserve native champion.
In 2017, they took to the national stage, travelling around the country with three young females, in a bid to win more silverware.
Dendor 1 Ruby 23 was shown again along with Dendor 1 Holly 8, and Sky High 1 Miss Valentine which was purchased from the 2016 Designer Genes sale at a then record price of 8,500gns.
That year they went away from their first time showing at the Royal Welsh with a second and third rosette.
They also had two firsts and a third at Shropshire County and a first place at the National Poll Show with Ruby 23.
Entering the show ring for the first time did not come without its own challenges, and Adam admits it was a steep learning curve. “We did not really know what we were doing at the beginning,” Adam says.
“We did what we could and even used a hairdressing trolley to keep all our show kit in. We took bits of advice from everyone.
“Jen and Aled Jones, of Dendor Herefords, have been a tremendous source of advice to us, and Roger Birch has also been a particular help, along with his son Boomer, of Sky High Herefords, who gave us our first clipping lesson.”
Arwyn Prichard, from Cowbridge, also helped with advice and show prep, particularly with clipping prior to the show season and the team’s monthly touch-ups.
Ethan Brooke of Forgefield Herefords, Ystrad Mynach, Caerphilly, is also often on hand, helping in washing in the evenings, walking animals and also helping Adam and the family on show days.
“We are looking to produce deep framed animals with clean shoulders, a good top line and plenty
of width in the hind quarters, with a long, strong sweeping neck,” Adam says.
“They need to be milky and correct on their feet. As personal preference, we like a deep red colour with good, even markings.
“Animals need to be balanced. We aim for easy calving and calves with plenty of vigour and good growth rates. They have also got to have big, alert ears.”
Bowendu 1 Del Boy was the first bull the breeders produced. Born in April 2017, out of Dendor 1 Holly 7 and by Danish bull SMH Euro 30E, it went on to be sold at 12 months of age in a private deal.
The Bowen family now keeps 11 breeding females, not including yearling heifers. Stock bull Panmure 1 Nugget, has had its own fair share of attention, having won the senior male and reserve grand male championship at the Royal Welsh Show 2019.
Nugget joined their herd this year after a deal with Paul Moyle and Vicky Weller of Porton House Herefords, Newport, who purchased him as a calf privately from Audrey Anderson of J.M. Cant and partners, Tayside, Scotland.
The first Nugget calves hit the ground this spring and the family say they are pleased with them. Nugget’s semen was auctioned in the last Designer Genes sale which attracted a lot of interest. He has since spent time in UK Sires stud, near Exeter, where straws have been gathered which qualify for worldwide export.
Their previous stock bull was Hollyvale 1 Northern Lad which stood male and reserve supreme champion at the 2017 National Poll Show, while its sire Hollyvale 1 Knight had been the 2014 reserve male champion.
“We were watching Northern Lad’s progress around the shows and after discussions with the Massey family and his success at Moreton-in-Marsh Show, an offer was made and purchase completed the following week,” Adam says.
“He went on to be reserve supreme and male champion at Usk Show.”
Lyn adds: “Northern Lad bred such depth and length into the herd. “We are now looking to give
our herd a stamp which is going to take a while to develop, but Northern Lad has certainly helped us on our way.”
Moving forward, the family say they are working towards being able to provide breeding stock to both pedigree and commercial herds and would like to get their numbers to 20 cows.
Block calving under cover in January and February, the window has been pulled together rather than calving all year-round.
“We had to assess when the right time was to calve in order to have cattle at the right age and size for the shows and sales,” Adam says.
Only the show cattle receive concentrates at Ty Du while the ‘general bunch’ are on grass throughout the summer months. A lot of re-seeding is carried out which is a process where costs are closely monitored. While
inside, they are on a diet of haylage or silage.
“Our aim is to breed quality, honest animals,” Lyn says. “It could take years to establish a name, but we have tried to fast track the process by making some significant purchases.
“The cattle are run separately to our other business, but we still use the same mentality when it comes to management and cost control.
“We cost every input involved in keeping these cattle. If they do not pay, we will not keep them. That is how we have had to operate in our other business, which must be continued into the farm.
“Every cow is costed, including every feed, vet bill and registration fee. It is all budgeted and all has to work.”
THE family also sold some beef in boxes to local customers which they say was a massive success and could easily have sold more.
“We asked for feedback, good or bad, but we already have customers pre-booked for the next beast,” explains Adam.
“This is something we would like to do more of and so need good carcase animals. We were pleased with the feedback from the abattoir which told us it was one of the cleanest carcases they had worked with.
“We will castrate what we do not see as fit to breed from and kill steers or heifers for the boxed beef scheme. We do not want anything going from this place that we would not want to breed from ourselves.
“Selling our animals in this way means we are getting up to three times as much for an animal than we would through a fat cattle ring.
“While we have invested heavily in top pedigree lines, this high margin outlet has meant we are not tempted to be slack when it comes to selecting breeding stock.
“We breed fast and cull hard, to have a herd packed with the traits we want.
“Although the box beef is an outlet for animals that do not meet our requirements, our main objectives are to firstly provide quality breeding stock, as well as supplying the commercial market.
“This is a massive challenge for us, but we believe that if we continue with the hard work, improving traits and showcasing our animals, we can achieve it.
“I was brought up to believe if you lean on a gate and are proud of what you have the other side, it will not feel like a job.”