In the run up to the February 2024 Stirling Simmental Bull Sale please see here a feature on the Denizes Herd of Michael & John Barlow, Nr Leyland, Lancashire who have a team of five bulls entered. The feature was first published in the Scottish Farmer and is reproduced with their kind permission.
Focusing on cow families pays dividends for many dairy producers and the same holds true for Simmental breeders Michael and John Barlow of the Denizes herd, who regularly produce some of the lead priced entries at the Bull Sales.
It’s United Auctions’ Stirling Bull Sales that the team – Michael and his wife Doreen and John and his soon-to-be wife Claire, and their daughter, Robyn (2) –enjoy most too.
“Going up to Bull Sales at Stirling is the highlight of the year. There is nothing to beat the buzz and the atmosphere of Stirling when there is a good line-up of bulls to sell,” said Michael, who two years ago received 30,000gns for Denizes Lancelot and sold nine bulls and heifers to average a colossal £10,500.
“We’ve always enjoyed going to Stirling. We get such a buzz selling bulls into Scotland and especially up to Orkney.”
Huge fans of Simmental breed since their first female was bought in 1978, they have seen the popularity of the breed soar in recent years, with home-bred bulls selling into commercial beef and dairy units and several noted pedigree herds.
Last year, they enjoyed a huge demand for heifers at the NxtGen sale at Carlisle too, selling 10 to average £5754, complete with top prices of 10,000gns – twice.
Their Simmentals prove their worth not only when selling to other herds, but also when used as breeding bulls over the 80-cow Meuse-Rhine-Issel (MRI) dairy herd that produces a herd average of 7500kg at 4.7%BF and 3.49%P.
“The dairy herd was established in the 1940s by my grandfather and it still pays its way when we sell the milk to Arla and MRI bullocks from it sell at up to £1400 at 22-months of age solely off forage. Simmental bullocks from the dairy herd by home-bred bulls will make nearer £1900,” he said.
“Everything here has to pay its way so we look to breed good, long, modern clean bulls with a good top line and back end,” said Michael, pointing out that the Denizes herd has sold 10 bulls to AI centres in recent years of which all have easy calving figures.
John, who attends to the day-to-day running of the Simmentals, is equally enthusiastic about the breed and travelling to Scotland, added: “There is nothing to beat the Simmental for its maternal characteristics and ease of calving.
“Simmental cross calves from any breed or cross will easily gain more than 1kg per head per day too, which coupled with their ease of temperament means an increasing number of farmers are looking for Simmental bulls. We’re selling more bulls than ever before into dairy and beef herds and, into different areas, and that’s without advertising.”
He added that data from AHDB’s National Beef Evaluations has also confirmed that on average calves by a Simmental sire will finish 36 days earlier than those from other continental sires and 46 days earlier than those by native sires.
It has also shown that Simmental sired calves cost £72 less to finish. Furthermore, continental cross calves bred from Simmental-sired cows were shown to finish 29 days earlier than those from ‘average’ suckler cows.
The Barlows’ farming enterprise, based just outside Leyland in Lancashire, extends to 300 acres of low ground pasture and takes in the three farms of Littlewood Hall, Rowcroft and Denizes.
Michael’s late father, John, was equally passionate about the cattle and also introduced a livestock trailer business – Barlow Trailers – which he concentrated on at nights. It is now one of now leading trailer businesses in Uk selling livestock, horse, plant, and flat trailers.
The family’s Simmental herd has been enjoying just as much success too since young John returned home to work on the farm having completed a degree in agriculture.
During that time he did a placement at Wilson and Geraldine Strachan’s Mill of Balmaud, Banffshire, where their former stockman Andrew Reid changed John’s outlook on Simmental cattle.
“After working with Andrew, I could see the potential in our cattle and found out how to bring that out. Since then, we’ve also focused more on the female lines and breeding bulls demanded by the commercial producer. It’s all about ticking the right boxes – the more boxes a bull ticks for the commercial breeder, the more likely you are to sell that bull,” John said.
“Good Simmental bulls have got to have the shape, size, growth rates, figures and have the right pedigree. They also need to have the health status and be of the right colour.”
To achieve such high standards, John and Michael have bought in to several top breeding female lines over the years to include the Trixie Belles, Melodys and Matildas which in turn have bred several top-performing bulls to sell and keep for their own use.
One of those purchases, Raceview Dawn Matilda, which was bought over the ‘phone at a breed sale in Roscommon for €8500, produced Denizes Impeccable – the sire of Denizes Lancelot and Logic sold in February last year for 30,000gns and 10,000gns respectively.
The herd’s star breeder at present, Denizes Hamish, is another son of a well-known breeding female. Hamish, whose first 14 sons averaged £7000, is the first calf out of Auroch Eve. He is also the sire of the herd’s first overall champion at Stirling in Denizes Monty which made 20,000gns at Stirling in October 2022, alongside another that made 12,000gns.
Eve was purchased at just two hours of age for her pedigree when her sire is the Hillcrest Champion son, Auroch Ace, while her dam, Auroch Wave, boasts the show cow Darsham Kit Kat and Raceview Merle-Beauty in her pedigree.
Eve herself is also one of the breed’s leading show cows having been crowned The Scottish Farmer’s Champion of the Decade in 2020, after winning the Highland Show in 2015 and 2016. She also boasts championship titles from the Great Yorkshire, the Royal Norfolk and at the Scottish National at the Black Isle Show, when she landed the breed honours when Hamish was her bull calf at foot.
Going further back, it was Ashland Tornado, another private purchase acquired at just five months of age from Pat and Frank Kelly, Northern Ireland, that helped to put a stamp on the herd. He was also purchased on the back of his genetics.
“He bred some good sons, but it’s his daughters that have been particularly impressive, having produced the 30,000gns Lancelot and grandsons to 20,000gns. Tornado daughters are good, well-balanced females and the type that we aim to breed from. They’re structurally correct, medium-sized cows that do well with various bulls,” John said.
In more recent years, the Barlows bought Blackford Galaxy privately from the Macphersons, Croy, after the bull stood reserve champion at the Royal Highland Show in 2017 and the following year took the supreme under their ownership.
Last year, they also bought Saltire Impressive privately as a five-year-old; Corksie Nutmeg, the junior champion at the Royal Highland Show; and Coose Gambler, a former Cogent AI bull.
“We like Hamish and Impressive for their red colour and for their easy-calving characteristics, producing calves with shape and size while Nutmeg is more likely to be a cow breeder. Gambler was bought for his polled genetics and to put over the heifers,” said John.
Ideally, the duo look for a balance of muscle and size in their cattle with their ideal sized cow weighing in at 800kg and heifers calving at 30 months of age.
Heifers calve in February, and March, with the cows in June to September, inside. Being so easy fleshed they are fed a straw-based ration and plenty of minerals in the run-up to calving. They are also given time to calve instead of rushing in with the calving jack, which they believe is key to reducing calving problems and boosting herd fertility.
“We’re big on pre-calving minerals and make sure we don’t rush calving. In the past, we’d be too quick to assist, but we’ve learned to give them plenty of time and they normally calve themselves without any issues.”
While the boys look at calving figures, they are more likely to check the accuracy and gestation figures when buying a bull.
Easy-calving sires can breed easy-calving daughters too, with Denizes Hamish not only being in the top 1% of the breed, but also boasting gestation and calving figures of -2.9 and +9.2 respectively, with his daughters producing progeny with figures of +9.4.
Hamish also breeds impressive looking progeny, being the sire of the inter-breed group of four at the Royal Lancashire Show last year. The quartet of yearlings, included Denizes Neff, Nugget, Nero and Nacho, caught the eye of the overall judge, David Leggat of United Auctions, who declared: “That’s one of the best inter-breed teams I have ever seen.”
Interestingly, those four, along with another Hamish son, Denizes Newton, are bound for Stirling this month.
The Royal Lancs is the first show for the family and it’s also the busiest as John aims to ‘break’ all cattle for the year when the two-day event is a 10-minute drive away and all entries are kept tied up overnight in a marquee.
“Last year, we took 21 cattle and this year we aim to take 35. It’s a great way to train youngstock for future showing because they get used to a big event at a young age.
Stirling Bull Sales comes first though, and if you can’t get a bull, you could buy a trailer or rent a motor home for a couple of weeks in the summer!
Family farm: Third generation family farm run by Michael and Doreen Barlow and son John
Livestock: Oldest herd of MRI dairy cows in the UK running 80 cows with a herd average of 7500kg at 4.7%BF and 3.49%P and 80 pedigree Simmentals to produce breeding bulls and heifers for sale mostly through United Auctions’ Stirling and Carlisle.
Diversification: Barlow trailers; motorhome rental; on-farm music festival.
ON THE spot
Best investment? “Buying Ashland Tornado to breed a herd of cows and Auroch Eve to breed Hamish.”
Biggest achievement? Breeding Denizes Lancelot which sold for 30,000gns when he is backed by home-bred genetics on both sides having a home-bred sire, grand-sire and dam.
Best advice? “Use Dinton Nautical on Auroch Eve to produce Hamish which is still going strong at eight years of age.”
Favourite show? “Royal Highland.”