THE market for Hereford-cross cattle continues to grow throughout Ireland on the back of the ‘quality’ beef schemes introduced by most meat factories over recent years. And this is helping to boost the number of pedigree Herford cattle, both in new and existing herds.
Mervyn Richmond, who farms with his son, Henry, near Derrylin in Co Fermanagh, says: “All of this is good news for breeders, provided we keep quality up.
“The bonuses for certified Hereford beef are acting as genuine incentives for the breed as a whole throughout Ireland, but they must be maintained.
“Demand for our own stock is on the rise. Increasingly, we are receiving requests from new breeders to supply them with maiden heifers as they seek to establish their own pedigree herds. Most of our bulls are sold at public auction, with the requirement for these animals coming from dairy farmers wanting to increase the value of their beef calves. Black whitehead calves are securing premium prices in the marts.”
Both Mervyn and Henry make no apology for being traditional Hereford breeders.
Henry says: “We have not gone down the polled route and have no intention of so doing.
“All our stock are horned. We aim to produce well fleshed animals with the ability to make optimal use of grazed grass.”
The father and son team own the Corraback herd, named after a local townland. A history of Hereford breeding can be traced within the family back to 1961. But it is the investment decisions of the past decades which have served to put Mervyn and Henry on the map as recognised breeders of top quality Hereford cattle.
The herd comprises 23 cows with an additional five heifers going to the bull this year. The Richmonds also run a commercial suckler herd of 29 cross-bred Hereford cows and heifers. Their farm extends to 65ha (160 acres) of grass across three sites.
Mervyn says: “Our plan is to bring the number of breeding pedigree females up to 30.
“There is a spring/autumn calving split within the herd to ensure we have breeding bulls to sell throughout the year.”
Henry points out the decision to gear up the pedigree breeding enterprise over recent years is a direct consequence of the family’s commitment to maximise the productivity of their farm.
“We recognised the growing demand for pedigree Hereford stock. This trend fitted in in with our deep interest in the breed. Moreover, a fair proportion of our land is quite heavy, which automatically ruled out the continental option,” he says.
The cow families within the Corraback herd can be traced back, for the most part, to stock bought-in during recent years from the Knockfin and Ardmulchan herds in Co Laois and Co Meath respectively. Mervyn and Henry have sought to complement this by procuring breeding stock of the right quality from all parts of the UK and Ireland. A case in point is their current stock bull Mara Flook.
Mervyn says: “I bought him from Bob and Margaret Borwick in Northamptonshire as a three year old.
“I was initially impressed by his size – he has Canadian ancestry. But the real clincher for me was the vitality and scope of his calves. Buying him was one of the most straightforward decisions I have ever had to make.
“He has had a successful show career with us. Last year, Flook was selected as the horned bull of the year in Northern Ireland. He had won the same accolade in 2013, at which stage he was also selected as the overall reserve bull of the year.
“Catching the eye of judges at shows is one thing, repeating this level of success in the sale ring is something else entirely. Making this happen requires a consistent supply of top quality breeding stock. And, I am more than happy to confirm Flook has not thrown a bad calf yet.”
Mervyn and Henry have seen their investment in top quality Hereford bloodlines pay off from both a showing and commercial perspective. In addition to their successes with Mara Flook, 2012 saw them pick up the progeny pair of the year award in Northern Ireland with stock bred by bull Ardmulchan Accordian.
The following year they received the overall Hereford female of the year accolade with Corraback Joan. Then, last year, they won the reserve title with Corraback Clover 4, also taking the reserve progeny pair of the year award with animals by Ballyaville Don.
The Richmonds also recognise the benefits of giving their top bulls the best possible sale platform. With this in mind, they have joined forces with breeder colleagues, Robin Irvine, Raymond Pogue, David Smyth and James Graham, to host their own Elite Sale. Now an annual even, it is held in Dungannon mart in February.
Henry says: “In 2014 we sold two bulls, one for 3,800gns and the other for 3,000gns. This year we sold three animals – one for 3,300gns with the other two each making 3,000gns. All our bulls are DNA tested prior to sale with all of the relevant information made available to the new owners.”
Mervyn believes a lot of good work has been done in promoting the quality of Hereford beef. He says: “The cattle tick all the boxes. It’s beef is succulent and has an excellent taste. It is more than feasible to produce a Hereford cross bullock, killing out at about 380kg from grass at about 30 months of age.
“In addition, dairy farmers are becoming more aware of the shorter gestation length associated with Hereford cattle. This makes the breed even more attractive with those milk producers striving to get their calving intervals down.”
The Richmonds are also keen to practice what they preach from a grassland management point of view. The Corraback herd has access to a paddock grazing system which ensures the best use is made of grazed grass.
Henry says: “We take two cuts of silage each year and we are also committed to an active grassland reseeding policy.”
Both men believe standing still is not an option from a herd development perspective and Mervyn knows a replacement for Mara Flook will have to be found at some stage in the future.
He says: “The bull is still extremely active and can be used on mature cows for the foreseeable future.
“We are looking at using AI on heifers. But the fundamental driver is to improve the quality of the cattle in the herd. The recorded average of prices paid at our elite bull sale continues to increase and this trend must be maintained.
“Up to this point, we have not committed to any form of beef recording with the herd. I have always been happy to judge the quality of our stock with the naked eye. Buyers of our cattle have never had any hesitation endorsing the performance of Corraback bloodlines. This is, I believe, the true yardstick of what Henry and I are striving to achieve from a herd breeding perspective.
“And money is not everything. We have a deep interest in working with cattle, hoping someday we will breed a truly elite animal – we can dare to dream.”
Overarching the Herford Society awards notched up by the Richmonds over recent years has been their successes at many of the local agricultural shows. These are held across Northern Ireland through spring and summer. The traditional finale to the season is Co Fermanagh show in Enniskillen.
Henry says: “We will be well represented at this year’s event. It is our local show and has always been a tremendous shop window for the pedigree cattle we breed.
“The Fermanagh area is characterised by heavy soil types and an almost total reliance on grass-based agriculture. It is for this reason Hereford breeding stock are equally attractive to beef and dairy farmers in the region.
“There have been excellent crowds turning out for most of the agricultural shows held so far this year. So let us just hope the sun comes out for Fermanagh’s farming spectacular at the beginning of August.”