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Popes Simmentals return after record breaking year

History was made by the Wood family and their Simmental herd last year, as they took inter-breed pair championships at both the Royal Welsh and Great Yorkshire with homebred stock. Alex Robinson went to meet the breeders. 

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Success at the Royal Welsh Show relies on year round preparation and, as thousands of hopeful competitors put the final touches to their exhibits, the Lancashire-based Wood family are also gearing up for their favourite show of the year.


Situated at Popes Farm, Dutton, Preston, and Deer House Farm, Clitheroe, the Woods run 40 pedigree Simmentals plus followers on 162 hectares (400 acres).
Husband and wife duo Jimmy and Vikki, alongside son Harry, 23, and daughter Hannah, 20, are a regular sight on the pedigree show circuit and have taken championships at some of the biggest competitions in the country.


Alongside showing commitments, the family run Bowland Foods, a wholesale meat business. Founded in 1979, it currently sees 18,000 cattle, 26,000 sheep and 28,000 pigs through the slaughter house each year.


While this keeps everyone busy, the Wood’s love and dedication to the Simmental breed has not wavered since Jimmy and Vikki established the Popes herd back in 1988.
As a back injury was preventing Vikki from pursuing her initial passion for show jumping, the pair decided to expand their commercial herd and venture into pedigree cattle breeding.

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Cows and calves at Popes.

pic3

Popes Fearless 15 is the current on-farm junior bull.

Vikki says: “We selected the Simmental for its exceptional temperament and mothering ability, as well as the fast growth rates. Our first cow was picked up from a local dispersal sale in 1988, and she was quickly followed by a cow we bought from a society sale.”


Soon after, the herd’s main foundation heifer, Tintoside Nelly’s Wonder, was sourced from the herd dispersal of Brian Jameson, Dumfries. Since then, a key focus has been given to cow families, and descendants from the original cows, from herds such as Cloford, Sterling, Revlex, Brinkton and Misarden remain in the breeding programme to date.


“In the beginning, we invested in quality breeding cows to establish our female lines, buying from some of the most prolific herds of the time,” says Vikki. “We have carefully cherry picked our stock for the past 25 years, and it has ultimately paid off. Currently, we follow an intricate flushing plan, with the aim of continuing to widen the breeding pool and produce from the best cows.”

 

In 1993, the Popes herd gained attention when the bull Popes Clarence took the junior and reserve overall breed championship at Perth bull sales.


Jimmy says: “This win really put us on the map, and over the years, we have won every breed championship rosette at the sale with homebred bulls. We have been fortunate to have a lot of success at Perth and at the new location in Stirling. In 2002, Popes Laird took the overall Simmental title at Stirling and went on to sell for 12,000gns to the Corskie herd, and a few years later Popes Tonka sold to the Skerrington herd for the same money. We use the event to showcase our breeding to the industry, and we have also bought our main stock bulls there.”
Sires are as carefully selected, chosen for their breeding attributes and their suitability to the herd’s females.


Vikki says: “Our senior bull, Kilbride Farm Comber, was bought for 20,000gns after being champion at Stirling in 2012, and has been a very consistent producer for us. Banwy Wonderboy was another Stirling buy, and was overall senior champion there in 2010. Two homebred bulls, the Wonderboy-sired Popes Barclay and the Comber son Popes Grandslam 15 both reside at Cogent. Popes Fearless 15 is our own junior bull prospect. He has already been successfully shown at county level and we are excited to see how his first crop of calves grow on.”


Heifers go to the bull at 24 months and the farm follows a spring calving pattern, with a batch of females also held back for autumn calving in September.


“The farm is relatively self-sufficient, and we make all our own haylage,” adds Jimmy. “We also adhere to a strict culling policy. Yearling bulls which are not performing are put into the food business, ensuring only the best stock is carried through to join the breeding herd, or sold into the pedigree market. The Popes herd has also been the overall winner of the Midland’s Simmental club herd competition on several occasions.”

In 1993, the Popes herd gained attention when the bull Popes Clarence took the junior and reserve overall breed championship at Perth bull sales.


Jimmy says: “This win really put us on the map, and over the years, we have won every breed championship rosette at the sale with homebred bulls. We have been fortunate to have a lot of success at Perth and at the new location in Stirling. In 2002, Popes Laird took the overall Simmental title at Stirling and went on to sell for 12,000gns to the Corskie herd, and a few years later Popes Tonka sold to the Skerrington herd for the same money. We use the event to showcase our breeding to the industry, and we have also bought our main stock bulls there.”
Sires are as carefully selected, chosen for their breeding attributes and their suitability to the herd’s females.


Vikki says: “Our senior bull, Kilbride Farm Comber, was bought for 20,000gns after being champion at Stirling in 2012, and has been a very consistent producer for us. Banwy Wonderboy was another Stirling buy, and was overall senior champion there in 2010. Two homebred bulls, the Wonderboy-sired Popes Barclay and the Comber son Popes Grandslam 15 both reside at Cogent. Popes Fearless 15 is our own junior bull prospect. He has already been successfully shown at county level and we are excited to see how his first crop of calves grow on.”


Heifers go to the bull at 24 months and the farm follows a spring calving pattern, with a batch of females also held back for autumn calving in September.


“The farm is relatively self-sufficient, and we make all our own haylage,” adds Jimmy. “We also adhere to a strict culling policy. Yearling bulls which are not performing are put into the food business, ensuring only the best stock is carried through to join the breeding herd, or sold into the pedigree market. The Popes herd has also been the overall winner of the Midland’s Simmental club herd competition on several occasions.”

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Popes Princess Cleo.

The show scene has appealed to Vikki and Jimmy for some time, and competition is very much a family affair for the Woods. Harry, who works in the family business, and Harper Adams agri food, marketing and business studies student Hannah are both heavily involved in the rigorous pre-show preparation, and are usually found at the end of the halter in the ring.
In 2003, one of the herd’s most prominent show females came to the fore, in the shape of Popes Nellys Princess .


Vikki says: “As a heifer, Nellys Princess won countless championships, including reserve overall at the Royal Show. She really cemented our love for showing and has been a top producing cow for us. Her daughter Popes Princess Cleo is one of our best females at present, and will be heading to the Royal Welsh this time.”


The team have consistently stood at the top of the line at some of the most prestigious agricultural shows, but last year they broke a record, becoming the first breeders to have a pair of homebred cattle head the inter-breed pairs championship at both the Great Yorkshire and Royal Welsh, with Fearless and Princess Cleo.


“There is nothing more rewarding than being successful with homebred stock so we were extremely proud of the win,” says Jimmy.


The pair’s victory topped of a great few days for Wood’s at the Welsh, as Fearless and Cleo both stood male and female Simmental breed champions, respectively.


Vikki says: “It was a great show for us and Cleo went one better to take the Simmental breed title, before going on to stand reserve inter-breed. We also enjoyed wins at the Great Yorkshire, taking the male championship and overall reserve breed title with Fearless, reserve female champion with Cleo and also the junior championship with Popes Gem.”


Despite only attending the Royal Welsh since 2010, the show has firmly sealed itself as a yearly ritual for the family.


Vikki adds: “It is a brilliant show, with an exceptional quality of stock. Everyone is made to feel really welcome, and the atmosphere is just like no other.”


This year, Cleo and Fearless will be returning, competing alongside two yearling heifers, the March-born Skerrington Rona daughter, Popes Rona, and Popes Princess Hettie, a May-born daughter of Cleo.


Dean Brow Beltex

Dean Brow Beltex

IT is easy to see Jimmy and Vikki’s son Harry has developed the same keen eye for top quality stock as his parents. Joining the Simmental team in Wales will be a consignment of six Beltex sheep from Harry’s Dean Brow flock.


Established in 2012, he currently runs 30 pedigree ewes on-site at Popes Farm, and already has two Royal Welsh breed titles under his belt, winning on two separate occasions with an aged ewe and a shearling gimmer.


The best females are flushed twice a year, firstly in August, followed by a second flush in October. Ewes from their flock of 350 North of England Mules are used as recipients.


Quality tups are a necessity, and are usually bought from the premier breed sale at Carlisle over the summer. In 2015, the main sire Matt’s Abracadabra was bought from the sale for 12,000gns, and has produced a string of successful progeny. The most recent ram purchases were Ardstewart Armani, picked up in partnership with Buckles Beltex, Kirkby Stephen, for 8,000gns, and the Dean V/H Vrijbos son Hackney Bobby Dazzler, bought with Ali Jackson of Dumfries, for 5,500gns.


Harry says: “I have chosen to invest in the best genetics as I know it will pay later in the game. In a Beltex, I look for correctness and quality movement, alongside shape and a good head. I am always looking to improve the bloodlines, achieving this by buying from select flocks and following a firm culling policy.”


Since he started showing his stock in 2014, Harry has been victorious at both local and county level. In 2015, Dean Brow stock took reserve breed champion at the Great Yorkshire and also reserve overall at the National Beltex Progeny show, the same year he headed his second Royal Welsh championship.

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