The Blonde has a bright future according to Mike Harrison whose
suckler herd which produces Blonde crossbred calves has picked
up a national award.
The suckler herd run by Mike on the Cumbrian upland unit Sleddale
Hall, Shap, which produces calves sired by a pedigree Blonde bull,
has won the British Blonde society’s biannual UK commercial
herd of the year award.
Mike and his parents Henry and Joyce have stayed faithful to the
Blonde for the last two decades, breeding both pedigree and commercial
And the breed which is easily managed and produces quality suckled
calves, suits the system on the traditional 1,000 acre Less Favoured
Area unit, where input costs are closely monitored and labour is
kept to a minimum.
Sleddale Hall is tenanted from United Utilities which owns the
neighbouring Wet Sleddale reservoir. There are rights on Ralfland
Common and the Harrisons also own 165 acres.
Stocking numbers to meet the requirements of the Lake District
Environmentally Sensitive Area scheme are 1,100 mostly Swaledale
and Texel cross ewes and 150 beef cows.
The cows are predominantly three quarter beef bred Belgian Blue
cross Limousin and Simmental with the majority of replacements
Cow numbers include the 12-cow pedigree Shapfell Blonde herd which
was founded 20 years ago after the Harrisons had used a Blonde
bull commercially and were impressed with the calves.
This bullock from Sleddale Hall was reserve overall
champion at the Carlisle suckled calf show in October 2007.
Mike Harrison said: “The Blonde bull produces good conformation
calves and now that the export market has re-opened they are in
big demand because they are long and lean. I think there is a lot
of potential there.
“I believe the Blonde has a good future in today’s
UK beef production system.
“The cross-bred cows are easily calved to the Blonde and
we have very few assisted calvings, even of heifers and they have
a quiet temperament. Then cows and calves thrive on rough grazing
which runs from 980ft to 1,450ft above sea level at Sleddale Hall.”
As Mike runs the farm with only help from his father and a man
at lambing time, the cows must be easily managed.
To produce an income throughout the year, the cows are calved
in three batches – 40 in September and October, 70 in May
and 40 in February and March.
The award’s previous winner Bill Thompson, of Fraserburgh,
who judged the competition, said: “Mike Harrison’s
herd was the obvious winner. His calves are consistently good for
both bulls and heifers, particularly considering the type of hard
farm he is rearing them on.”
Current senior stock bulls are Forthview Rosco, bought in Perth
for 1,700gns in Perth 2002 and Easterton Pedlar bought privately
from Scottish breeder John Owen.
Two five year old Shapfell bulls are also being used as well as
the November 2003-born Quicks USA bred by Andrew Quick of Crediton,
Devon, which sold for the then breed record price in Carlisle in
May 2005 of 8,200gns.
A share has been retained in the home-bred bull Shapfell Bongo
which was sold privately to Cumbrian pedigree breeder Andrew Stott.
The 19 month old bull is sired by Whistley Dollar and goes back
to a home-bred cow on the female line. Semen has also been taken
from the bull.
The line-up of show calves entered for the
October 2007 Carlisle
The success of the commercial cattle at Sleddale Hall is testament
to the Blonde and Mike sells bulls mostly at home to both commercial
and pedigree buyers.
The herd’s top price is 8,000gns for the bull Shapfell Mastermind
sold at Carlisle.
Most calves are sold at around 11 months old. Some heifers are
retained as replacements but those sold are in demand as replacements
for upland suckler herds.
They are sold through Penrith, Wigton and Carlisle markets and
in 2007 the 135 calves sold averaged £642.
At the Carlisle autumn show and sale a heifer made £1,000
and Mike’s reserve overall champion, a bullock, made £900.
Both were bought by cattle showman Willie Timms.
The Harrisons have picked up numerous tickets for their suckled
calves over the years, some of which have gone on to be primestock
Another regular buyer is Alan Barnett, of Brins, Shap who sold
a bullock in January 2008 at Wigton for 149p per kg, topping the
market, and his finished cattle are now in demand for export.
Most of the commercial replacements are bought-in as either bulling
heifers or as heifers with calves at foot to generate a quicker
Sleddale Hall is a hard farm and winters are long and wet. All
the cattle are housed from mid October usually to the end of April
either in cubicles or on slats with the calves having access to
a straw-bedded area.
The cows are fed ad-lib silage and depending on their size, the
calves are creep fed a bought in concentrate, starting at 1.5kg
a head a day and increasing to 4kg maximum.
Cows and May-born calves are grazed on the farm’s highest
rough pasture which runs alongside the fell throughout July and
returning in September.
* The Blonde
society’s sale in Carlisle conducted by Harrison & Hetherington
on Friday March 7 has attracted an entry of 47 bulls and 17 females.
Judging the pre-sale show is Mrs Leanne Workman, of Co Down, Northern
Growing Maize as a Cost-Effective Fodder Crop
Lakeland Brand Helps Beef Up Prices
Galloways Paying Dividends at Hedgeley Hall