The world-famous Stirling bull sales are renowned for attracting some of the UK’s best pedigree bulls which command the biggest prices. Louise Hartley catches up with one family which is preparing to take eight bulls to the event at what will be their biggest sale yet.
Last February they secured the top price female with Denizes Melody 12, selling with a calf at foot for 5,400gns.
John says he much prefers attending sales rather than shows as they are more about the business side of things. However, John and his father regularly attend the major county and national shows to increase awareness of their herd and advertise their stock to other breeders.
The Barlows dominated last year’s Royal Highland Show, winning the breed championship with their Irish-bred heifer Auroch Eve, which just had a bull calf by Dinton Nautical.
“Securing the top two prices at Stirling in February 2011 was more important to me than winning any show. No other breeder has sold both the top price male and female Simmental in the same sale before,” says John, who has clinched the female champion rosette four times at Stirling.
The Barlows have invested in 13 carefully selected Simmental bull breeding families over the years, only buying accredited stock. The farm is in a four-year TB testing zone, accredited free of Johne’s and BVD since 2011.
One of their favourite buys is the 16,500gns Ranfurly Beauty 5, bought from Northern Ireland’s David Hazelton. Currently holding the record for the highest priced female in the breed, it is in the farm’s flushing programme and its first son, Denizes Exclusive, is now a Genus ABS bull.
Aiming to build their Simmental herd, which runs alongside Limousins and commercial sucklers, to 100 calvings per year, bull selection is based on a few, select criteria.
“Locomotion and structural correctness – for example, no high tails or ugly heads – are the first elements we look for when picking out bulls to sell. Bulls sometimes have to walk miles when serving cows,” says John.
“Secondly, pedigree is obviously important. We pay close attention to estimated breeding values for calving ease growth rates, as these are what matters for the commercial buyer.”
Breeding includes a mixture of AI and stock bulls, with about 10 embryos put in per year. With the farm also home to a milking herd of 60 Meuse Rhine Issel cows, those are used as recipients.
John says the biggest influence on the herd has been from Ashland Tornado, a bull bought as a four-month-old calf from Pat and Frank Kelly, Ireland. Six of the eight bulls forward for Stirling are out of Tornado daughters.
Denizes Fantastic, a Tornado grandson, is one of the most promising bulls in the Barlows’ pen. At 14-months-old, it is the youngest bull out of the eight and the eleventh youngest in the catalogue. Michael and John plan to take semen from Fantastic before the sale to keep his powerful breeding in the herd.
Looking forward to Stirling, John says it is the undoubted highlight of the bull sale calendar.
“Stirling attracts the best bulls, the most buyers and is the most notorious event. The atmosphere is amazing when the bulls are in the ring.”
Admitting he has some pre-sale nerves, John accepts the low milk price has filtered through the whole cattle industry.
The farm’s store cattle are sold at Lancaster auction all year round, selling young stock bulls to dairy farmers. Demand for surplus Denizes heifers regularly outstrips supply, he says.
“We cannot keep up with demand for heifers at the moment and this year we probably sold too many, which slowed down our plans to grow the herd, but ensured we could provide our customers with some Denizes breeding.
“With the market so strong, we plan to reduce Limousin numbers to meet the growing interest in Simmentals.”