by | Mar 1, 2024

With a firm eye to the future and the role the Simmental breed has to play, here we feature the Lancashire based Wood family with their high profile 50-cow Popes pedigree herd, and their fresh meat wholesale business, Bowland Foods.

Factfile: Popes Farm, Dutton, Preston

400 acres grassland
150 pedigree Beltex and Texel ewes
50 pedigree Simmental breeding cows plus replacements
2.75 years age at first calving
90% + calves reared
9 to 10 calf crops

Whilst Simmental has a distinguished past, the breed has an even bigger job lined up for the future, says Vikki Wood. “An increasing number of commercial producers are becoming aware that Simmental will introduce more milk and subsequently faster growth to a suckler herd; that’s massive and there’s no other breed which can achieve that.

“In fact, Simmental bred cattle have been proven* to be the most efficient in terms of reduced days to slaughter and reduced finishing costs which can only mean one thing – more profit and in turn, a more efficient and sustainable enterprise with a lower carbon footprint,” she explains. “That’s not all, modern Simmental genetics are leaving easy fleshed cattle producing high quality beef.”

Vikki speaks from experience, not only from farming with her husband, Jimmy and managing the noted Lancashire based Popes pedigree Simmental herd but also sharing with him a combined eight decades of procuring cattle for their fresh meat wholesale business, Bowland Foods. The businesses are very much a family affair, with their son Harry 30 years, and daughter Hannah 26, involved in both.

“We instinctively know which live cattle when hung up will meet will fulfil our customers’ requirements, and Simmental genetics have a role to play.”

Since the Woods established their wholesale meat businesses in 1994, it has grown exponentially to currently employ an 80 strong team weekly sourcing up to 450 cattle, 800 pigs and 1,000 lambs to supply independent butchers shops, catering butchers and other outlets with carcases and a complete range of cuts. Killing is off site, while the family’s Preston based operation is currently expanding its cutting room capacity. “Regardless of the trends towards reduced meat in the diet, demand for quality meat is on the up as far as we’re concerned,” she says.

Turning the clock back to the 1980s, and the Woods were also starting their farming career from scratch with a beef finishing enterprise supplying Bowland Foods.

“We decided we would like to establish a pedigree herd that would offer downtime, one that we could enjoy, and get some pleasure out of.

“As finishers, we’d had experience of most Continental breeds; Simmental became our first choice, it was the breed that was the most affable. Since I was responsible for the farm’s day-to-day management, the Simmental’s quiet temperament was the biggest deciding factor.” The couple established the Popes herd in 1988, and the rest is history.

“We were lucky to get the opportunity to invest in strong female lines at a few dispersal sales,” she explains. “Cloford, Greenside, Misarden, Sterling, Tintoside and Revlex provided some of the foundation genetics with Tintoside Nellys Wonder leaving the biggest influence with up to 50% of the current herd descending from her.

“We’ve since continued to focus on selecting female traits – milk and calving ease supported by EBVs, while our cattle have to demonstrate good locomotion, growth and easy fleshing, something to catch the eye and proven from a good strong cow family. We’ve accelerated genetic progress by introducing some of our leading brood females to a flushing programme.

“We quite simply want to breed the best and make sure we’re able to supply other herds with the right genetics to fit their jigsaw. Bulls sold through the ring or at home go off to do a job in both pedigree and commercial herds, and we currently have three standing at Cogent stud. Females have to be correct to produce the next generation for us and for other pedigree herds,” she says adding: “We’re always looking to renew and refresh the herd’s genetics with a different line.”

The Woods kept their word digging deep last year to invest 32,000gns in Heathbrow Natasha, an 18-month-old maiden heifer. The price tag was a new female breed record. “We’d been following her success in the show ring which culminated in the reserve junior championship at the Great Yorkshire. We considered she had everything we would look for in a female. She was a striking, fleshy well-balanced heifer and full of femininity,” says Jimmy.

To the future, and Simmental is guaranteed to have a firm future at Popes Farm after Hannah invested 9,000gns at the same dispersal in Heathbrow Melody, an in-calf heifer. “I’m establishing my own herd and Melody is my foundation female which I selected for her breeding; she is half-sister to Natasha and I am hoping that she will breed as well as her mother.

“My overall objective is to establish a polled herd,” she says. “The demand for polled cattle is ever increasing due to easier management and welfare issues. I plan to offer animals to supply that growing commercial and pedigree demand.”

“Simmental has proved for over three decades to be a great breed to work, it’s introduced us to a lot of people and we’ve made some good friends located throughout the UK and beyond. While we like to have a nice field of cows, the herd has had a very successful show career and we’ve loved every minute of it.”

Popes has amassed countless red rosettes and ribbons and a glittering array of silverware. Acknowledging its most outstanding accolades and the Woods say top of the league table has to be Stirling where it has headed the junior, intermediate and senior sections before going on to secure the overall championship.

The herd has also lifted the interbreed at both the Great Yorkshire and Royal Welsh along with reserve interbreed beef at the Royal, while in 2023 Popes Princess Immie secured both the breed’s English and Scottish National championships. “There’s only one major title we’ve yet to crack and that’s the Royal Highland, and we’re going to give it our best shot,” says Vikki.

*AHDB National Beef Evaluations based on records from over three million animals slaughtered during the last 10 years.