Rhys Millichap is the name behind Rhymil Blues, the pedigree herd of British Blue cattle. Laura Bowyer went to meet him.
With just over a decade of experience under his belt, has become a force to be reckoned in show and sale rings up and down the country.
At Rhiwgarn Farm, Tonyrefail, mid-Glamorgan 29-year-old Mr Millichap farms in partnership with his parents, David and Catherine, and his grandparents, Lyn and Gaynor Davies. The family runs 405 hectares (1,000 acres) and with the farm house sitting at 396m (1,300ft) above sea level, all of their ground is down to grass.
At the age of 16 Mr Millichap left school and returned home to the family sheep and beef farm, where they have farmed for 16 years. The farm then was, and still is, home to a commercial suckler herd, using both Limousin and British Blue blood, along with a number of pedigree Limousins.
With a love for the British Blue breed and wanting to etch out his own enterprise, Mr Millichap visited Chelford market on his 17th birthday and bought a Bringlee-bred cow and calf, the foundation female in what is now his eight cow herd.
Two years later in 2009 he sold a bull in Carlisle for 6,000gns and in the same year bought the yearling heifer, Lakeview Dancer for 3,500gns.
This female has been responsible for a number of Mr Millichap’s biggest successes, including Rhymil Kylie, which holds a wealth of titles; Rhymil Heidi which took reserve female in the Blue classes at the Royal Cornwall Show and Rhymil Highness which was breed champion at Monmouth and Pembrokeshire shows.
Mr Millichap says: “Lakeview Dancer has bred exceptionally well, producing females with length, size and power.”
But it is daughter, Rhymil Kylie which attracted the judge’s eyes on this summer’s show circuit with a large collection of prize cards and sashes to prove it, is the animal which Mr Millichap calls his biggest success to date.
Kylie crossed the Severn Bridge in November, heading for its new home in Cullompton, Devon as an 18th birthday present for Charlotte Alford of Fox Hill Farm pedigrees, where it will be a foundation female for the farm’s new venture into the breed.
In the autumn of 2012, Mr Millichap bought an aged cow, Paulern Audrey, at the dispersal of the Paulern herd, Gloucester for 2,650gns. It went on to breed Rhymil Jagerbomb, a first prize winner at the 2015 Royal Highland Show and supreme champion and joint sale leader at this year’s Border British Blue spring show and sale at Carlisle, selling at 12,000gns to D.J. Lloyd and Co, Caersws, Powys.
He says there is a great difference between British and Belgian Blue breed types, with the former being larger, with more muscle and a very good temperament.
Mr Millichap says: “I did import an animal from Belgium, but I did not get on with it. Yes, it was muscular, but it did not have the frame. They breed for a completely different market out there.”
Mr Millichap says he is looking for good, framey cows, which are muscular enough to produce a bull. He likes milky mothers which are easy to handle. It is cows with good enough pedigrees and size which will be flushed, he says.
He adds: “Females need power but they still need to have that femininity and sparkle.”
When it comes to males, Mr Millichap says: “In a bull you need size, power and mobility or you will not even get a look in. I do not take too much notice of EBVs, but instead look at the animal itself. Someone once told me one of my animals had the best locomotion they had ever seen. If I walked them up and down the hills at our place, they would be good on their feet too.
“As a breeder, bulls have got to be 4,000gns to make it financially worth your while. Between feeding and transport, they cost a lot of money to get to that stage. In Carlisle, they want bulls to be 20-25 months of age, weighing in at 1,000kg,” he says.
When breeding from his Blue females as heifers, Mr Millichap will put a Limousin to them to see how they calf, before using British Blue semen the next time round. Although he says natural calving is not a main driver for him. Heifers are not bulled before 24 months, with the aim of calving down at three years of age.
It is the same for the family’s suckler cows who will be put to a Limousin as a heifer, regardless of their own breed. Cross-bred females are used as Blue recipients and all these females undergo caesareans.
Mr Millichap only shows home-bred animals and says he would ideally like to be showing cows with calves at foot, to show the capability of his breeding.
He says: “For me, showing is a hobby but also a great shop window for my stock. Personally, I find it very addictive. But if animals are not spot on, there is no point in showing them, or breeding from them. You will just make yourself look silly.”
Rhymil Blues run as a spring calving herd, similarly to the farm’s commercials, although Mr Millichap says there are a number which calve in the autumn. Pedigree calves are not fed any concentrates, saying it is better to leave them on grass to grow on naturally.
The farm is also home to a flock of 1,000 South Wales Mountain ewes, a breed well suited to the harsh terrain of the South Wales valleys. Rams, ewes and ewe lambs are bred and sold at Penderyn and Nelson ram sales, while lambs are fattened and sold through Cowbridge market or St Merryn meats, Merthyr Tydfil. Although Mr Millichap favours cattle over sheep, he admits it is the sheep which keep the farm going when it comes to cash.
Clamped and baled silage is also made on the farm’s lowlands, which also lends itself to growing clover. Here, they fatten lambs and run cows and calves.
Mr Millichap says: “Calves will do better off clover than any other feed, although cross-bred calves and stores will receive some concentrates.”
Running a high health status herd, Mr Millichap tests for Johnes and BVD, and consequently only buys in stock from other high health herds.
From the sucklers, around 100 stores are sold through Brecon market between 17 and 20 months of age and nothing is finished on farm.
Brecon and Chelford markets see calves from the family’s suckler herd in their show potential sales. At last year’s English Winter Fair they took the highest bid for a baby beef entry at 2,800gns for the calf, Black Eyed Pea.
Mr Millichap says: “I have not spent a lot of money to get where I am today. I have just slowly built up my herd and reinvested earnings on the way. My parents helped to purchase the first cow when I was 17, but since then I have funded it myself.
Mr Millichap was an active member of Neath YFC, and alongside his sister Cerys was a keen stock judger. One year he also took the accolade of best actor in the Glamorgan federation. The family are also well known for their involvement in sheep dog trialling, with David and Cerys being keen competitors.
He says: “I do sell embryos out of cows I have bred, but it is not my main goal, I am more focused on breeding quality stock myself. I am yet to tap into semen sales, but it might be something for the future. My main aim though is to drive towards a production sale of about 20 animals.”
On being asked for advice to any young people wanting to succeed in the showring, Mr Millichap says: “I would stick to one breed, so you do not lose focus. I bought a Charolais once, but I have decided it is best to stick to just one breed. And just do your own thing. A lot of people take too much notice of what other people say or think, but stick to what you want to do.”