Established just eight years ago, the Moralee herd has taken the Hereford world by storm, turning out regular showring champions and pedigree sale toppers, as well as producing quality beef for direct sales.
Progress has been rapid since the first five pedigree Hereford cattle arrived with Tom and Di Harrison, near Stocksfield, Northumberland, in 2011, forming the foundation of the Moralee herd, which is now made up of 40 breeding females and followers.
With Tom working full-time for Northumbrian Water and, until recently, Di also working full-time off-farm, the couple was originally looking for a venture which could be managed alongside other commitments.
Tom says: “After doing our research, we were drawn to the Herefords for their docility and how easy they are to handle as a breed, but latterly their ability to finish off grass, longevity and fertility are also big pluses.”
Before retiring, Tom’s father Arnold ran a herd of Limousin cross cows and later bought-in and finished store cattle on-farm.
Although this was disbanded shortly before the Hereford herd was established, Arnold still remains on-hand and, particularly during show season, is involved with day-to-day work on-farm.
The herd, named after Di’s maiden name, Moralee, and High Moralee, where her parents farmed in northern Northumberland, is run over the farm’s 93 hectares (230 acres), which runs down to border the River Tyne.
This is mainly made up of grass and shrub land, alongside 36ha (90 acres) of arable ground, which is contracted out.
Explaining their route into showing, Di says: “It was never strictly the intention to get into showing to the extent we have.
“Although we both come from showing backgrounds, it had always been from an organisational side of things, so exhibiting was new to both of us when we started, but it has just spiralled.”
And showing has certainly snowballed. Since exhibiting for the first time at Agri Expo in 2012, Tom and Di have progressed from doing two shows per year to exhibiting at some 13 events on the circuit last summer.
It is fair to say the successes have come thick and fast since then, with stand-out titles so far including taking the breed championship at the Royal Highland in 2017 and the native junior inter breed championship at this year’s Royal Welsh with a home-bred bull.
Making their second time exhibiting at the Scottish event unforgettable was Coley 1 Pippa 356, a four-year-old cow the pair bought from Heather Whitaker’s herd in Yorkshire as a maiden heifer.
Pippa’s dam, Frenchstone P 1 Boo, was 2013 female Hereford of the year, and her sire was Australian-bred Days Calibre G74.
Unstoppable on the circuit this summer has been their home-bred 17-month-old bull, Moralee 1 Rebel Kicks, which has brought some of the herd’s biggest wins to date.
Kicking off at Agri Expo last November, he has dominated the championships at almost every show he has been exhibited at.
Most recently, he took a multitude of wins which peaked with the junior inter-breed native championship title and reserve junior inter-breed overall at this year’s Royal Welsh, to mark the couple’s first inter-breed win.
His successes also include taking reserve overall and male champion at Northumberland Show, where they have won a breed championship for the last four years, including in 2016 when they swept the championship board in the Hereford section.
Out of Romany 1 Dawn, a dam bought from Kelso-based Robert Wilson, Rebel Kicks is by what was the herd’s first stock bull, Danish- bred SMH Kingsize 87K, which stood third in the Hereford sire of the year line-up in 2018.
Success has also been enjoyed in the sale ring, most notably at last year’s Designer Genes sale when one half of the unbeaten pair, Moralee 1 Kylie KSR1 and Moralee 1 Kimberly KSR7, was offered for sale and saw Kylie sell for £8,000, the highest price the couple have achieved to date.
It is this success of the pair’s dams, the original Moralee 1 Kylie and Moralee 1 Kimberly cows, and Coley 1 Pippa, which led the couple to carry out some embryo work with these three cows this summer, with embryos implanted into commercial recipients.
Tom says: “We wanted to fully exploit our herd’s top genetics, continue to progress and increase the number of progeny we have to show and sell.
“Coley 1 Pippa is considered within the breed’s top 5 per cent, so when we considered she had the potential for just 10 calves in her lifespan, it made sense to double or even treble that number using in-vitro production.
“As a result, we have more than 50 embryos between the three cows which will return to us. We are also looking to put four Kylie cross Kingsize embryos in the Designer Genes sale this year, with potential for export to Europe, a breed first which we are excited to be involved in.”
The Harrisons credit their strict selection criteria as one of the main reasons for their successes, and having found more purchasers looking for polled cattle in recent years, are also breeding for this gene.
Show potential is also key, alongside correctness in legs and feet. Power and depth, as well as style, are all qualities looked for in heifer replacements, which are generally calved at two-and-a-half years old to allow for the growth they are looking for.
For this reason, the herd is split into spring and autumn calvers, with the former calving during March and April and later in September and October.
Not dissimilar other pedigree breeders, marketing and selling breeding bulls forms an arm of their business and Moralee sires will be heading to society sales in Hereford in October and April, as well as the new Hereford premier sale in January.
Any animals which do not make the grade, male or female, are finished to supply their beef box scheme, which the pair established five years ago.
Tom says: “We run a strict selection process at calving and will castrate any bulls at or soon after birth which do not have what we are looking for in a breeding bull.
“The decision will be on anything from marking, to how it is bred, or whether it is polled or not.
“All heifers are registered, but we are selective on what we keep for breeding, so any animals which do not make the grade will be finished and sold via the box scheme.”
An idea which snowballed after the pair was keen to try some of their own beef, Di says their customer base has largely grown in the locality through word of mouth and, more recently, social media.
Cattle are finished off grass and taken to a local abattoir and butcher at 14 to 15 months at 600kg to produce a 300kg carcase, with one animal typically returning 12-14 boxes. With a continual flow of orders, 18 animals were finished for the box scheme last year.
Di says: “The scheme is returning us a good added value and although it was always meant to be a sideline, it has become a major part of the business and is certainly equalling pedigree sales.”
Numbers-wise, the herd is continuing to grow as heifer replacements come through and will likely increase to 60 cows in the next few years.
Di says: “We are always trying to improve and look for something different and while the boxed beef outlet is strong, we can make a healthy profit on animals not sold down the pedigree route.
“The number of shows we do costs a fortune, but we would not be in the position we are now in terms of getting our name out there if we did not do it. It will always be a shop window.”