Hall Farm

Hall Farm




The Review features Andrew and James Barnes, Hall Farm, Little Lawford, Rugby, Warwickshire, whose aim with their commercially run pedigree herd is to breed the ‘ideal Simmentals’, homozygous polled with good mobility and temperament, with milk and easy calving, and with the carcase qualities to meet bull finishing targets.

Suckler beef and sheep have been integral to Andrew and James Barnes’ mixed farming strategy for over 25 years, and they appear future fit. “Our livestock are helping to maintain soil health and graze permanent pasture and river meadows in the Mid-Tier scheme, along with five-year grass leys we introduce to the arable rotation.”

Simmental came to the fore when the brothers decided to take control of their herd and also add value to the business; in 2018 they planned to invest in the breed and start to slowly grade up the commercial suckler herd. “Finding fertile suckler replacements was proving such a challenge we decided to breed our own,” Andrew explains. “We’d had experience farming

various Continental beef breeds – we used to sell store or finished. However, we did like our Simmentals; they were milky, fertile, have tremendous growth and a quiet temperament. They did a really good job for us. 

“When you are choosing a breed, then I think it’s important to have cattle you enjoy working with. For us, Simmentals tick all the boxes and as a family farm, we are happy to have our children around the herd which is important to us. We also want to still be alive at the end of the calving season.” 

The Barnes had scheduled to initially buy in pedigree Simmental heifers, that was until Thame Farmers Mart gave them the heads-up that John Rixon was planning to disperse his well regarded Lopemede herd, which happened to be running in a relatively low input system similar to their own. “The opportunity was pure luck,” he says. The Highcross prefix was registered and the rest is history. 

“We continue to run the pedigree herd on a pure commercial basis and are finding it is thriving in a forage led system with paddock grazing and aftermaths, extending from immediately after calving in February/March to November. Breeding animals are reared on a silage based TMR, while bulls destined for slaughter are grown on a more intensive diet, to finish at 12 to 14 months at an average 400kg to 420kg deadweight and within spec – R+ and U+. 

Heifers for breeding purposes are selected on various criteria including dam’s milkiness, calving, feet and legs and temperament.

“They are tested for polled status before calving, while breeding bulls are selected according to potential. We have already traded a number of bulls to commercial producers and pedigree herds, selling into pedigree herds is the icing on the cake,” says Andrew. 

The Barnes are firm believers in calving at 24 months. “The heifers are sufficiently mature and fertile to serve from 14 months. In May 2022 we bulled 40 heifers achieving 100% conception rate and they are all due to calve within a 55-day window. The heifers are going on to mature at approximately 700kg to 720kg, and we are optimistic that they will last for eight crops of calves.” 


Hall Farm, Rugby, Warks

  • 324ha (800 acres)
  • 150-cow pedigree Simmental herd and followers
  • 620 ewes

Highcross herd KPIs

  • 24 months age are first calving 

  • 100% heifer scan 

  • 700kg mature cow weight 

  • 98% calves reared 


The Barnes brothers rate dehorning as one of the worst jobs working with cattle. “Even after adopting the most stringent welfare practices, it’s stressful for both the calf and the operator. The calf doesn’t know what’s happening, becomes stressed and kicks which I strongly believe affects its future handling and possibly its temperament. Dehorning is also time consuming,” Andrew comments. 

The objective for their Highcross herd of pedigree Simmentals is to breed a herd that is 100% homozygous (PP) for the polling gene, without sacrificing the breed’s noted maternal traits, growth or shape. And despite facing challenges, within five short years of the programme’s launch, between 50% to 60% of the youngstock born in 2022 have been confirmed homozygous polled PP. “We are thrilled with progress to date,” he says.

“We’re fortunate we’ve had a head start. Lopemede was one of the UK’s first and largest polled Simmental herds which had been developed over 20 years and slowly progressed by sourcing polled genetics largely from Denmark. When we purchased the herd, this was a new concept to us. Nowadays breeding polled cattle is like switching a light on in a dark room.”

Polling Note

Polling is a genetic mutation. The poll allele (P) is dominant and the horned allele (p) recessive. 

Every parent has a pair of alleles at each gene, and they pass on one of these alleles to their offspring. A calf will receive one allele (P or p) from the sire and one allele (P or p) from the dam.

Two polled alleles = homozygous polled (PP)

One polled, one horned = heterozygous polled (Pp)

Two horned alleles = homozygous horned (pp)

Animals which are visually horned must have two copies of the horned gene (pp), however visually polled animals maybe heterozygous – they may carry one horned gene and one poll gene, (Pp). 

Only DNA testing can accurately distinguish which genes each animal carries.

After a calf is born, and its sire or dam have already been tested PP, then all we have to do is put the ear tag in, jot down its sex and weight. We are saving at least 10 minutes per calf, as well as the stress,” he explains. Unsurprisingly, I haven’t met anyone else using a homozygous polled bull who would go back to horned and nor would we.”

Progressing the Highcross breeding programme has proved to be a demanding journey for the Barnes. “Sourcing outcross homozygous stock bulls in the UK is very difficult. In fact, only a handful of PP tested bulls have been offered at the breed society’s official sales in the last three years, consequently the majority of the bulls we use are sourced from Denmark where breeders are amongst the most internationally advanced when it comes to breeding homozygous PP cattle with quality conformation, milk and calving ease.” 

“The Danish sires introduced to Highcross include Egebjerggards Pesto PP and Rosas Munk PP together with Jaegergard Leopold PP, Vingegaard Lucas Pp, Rosas Munk PP, Rosas Loftus PP, Langmose Ricci PP, Bakkely Pedro PP, Svend PP, and Nygard Ras Pp.”

Apart from the Danish bulls, all other sires used in the Highcross herd are DNA tested to ensure they have the correct combination of poll genes. The Barnes also test every animal pre-sale – at the farm gate or in the ring as well as every heifer pre-calving, for polled status and sire verification. “If for example a bull’s parentage is heterozygous polled Pp, then we are very mindful to inform farmers of the theoretical chances of how many horned calves he could throw.”

He adds: “Having achieved the level of success we have to date with the herd’s next generation, then we believe we are well on the road towards fulfilling our objective to breeding that ideal Simmental – homozygous polled PP with good mobility and temperament, combined with those essential maternal traits – milk, easy calving along with growth, shape and carcase quality meeting our bull finishing targets 390kg to 410kg within 12 to 14 months.” 

Alnham Farm

Alnham Farm



Alnham Farm located within the Northumberland National Park, has been run for over 90 years by four generations of the Sordy family who firmly believe the time spent working amongst the animals is a key to the suckler herd’s success. Alnham Farm joined the AHDB Farm Excellence project in 2021 for a four-year period as one of its four Monitor Farms.

Talk to Harry Sordy about the Sordy family’s suckler herd’s genetics, and he says Simmental has proved to be a great piece in the jigsaw puzzle. “Whilst Angus had formed our herd’s backbone, we’d been losing cow performance and wanted to add extra milk and subsequent growth. So we introduced Simmental as a maternal line back in 2015 in an attempt to add some hybrid vigour and the crisscross strategy has achieved our objective. We’ve some very milky cows producing a good solid calf,” he says. “They’re weaning calves at an average 300kg at eight months.” 

What’s more the Simmental has not only enhanced performance but also the family’s quest for improved ease of management. The entire herd comprising 230 breeding females and followers is mostly managed by the Sordy’s stockman, Craig Hardy. “They’ve such a quiet temperament which makes them so easy to manage, in fact I could take on and manage significantly more cows if a decision was taken to expand the herd,” he says. 

While we are calving, I walk through the shed and check every five hours around the clock, they really do calve themselves. Last season saw as few as 3% of the cows and heifers requiring assistance, and seven out of those eight cows were twin bearing.

“Then the Simmental’s strong maternal instincts kick in, I rarely have to teach a calf to suck, and both cows and heifers look after their calves; we don’t get mismotherings.” 

Turning the clock back and Craig says calving is now a far cry from before the Sordy’s replaced Charolais with Simmental genetics and established a split calving herd. “We had to pull far too many calves – the Charolais Angus combo was just not fit for purpose,” he says. 


Alnham Farm, Alnwick, Northumberland

  • 1,216ha mixed farm rising to 1,650’ inc

  • 1,102ha permanent pasture and temporary grassland 

  • 33ha arable 
  • 20ha kale mix 
  • 100ha temporary pasture (ryegrass and herbal leys) 
  • 230 spring calving cows 
  • 2,500 breeding ewes 

Harry continues: “We’ve been selecting Simmental sires for maternal traits and ease of calving, and preferably homozygous poll too – we’re trying to cut down on dehorning, it’s one job we don’t like to do. Furthermore, we take EBVs seriously and would never buy a bull without accompanying data. We’re currently running three bulls including two from Incheoch – they’re good commercially raised bulls leaving easily calved well fleshed calves.”

Nowadays, the Sordys are running one spring calving herd which is split between Simmental cross Angus genetics which they return to the Simmental bull, while Angus cross Simmentals go to the Angus. Craig explains: “We select the heifers for replacement purposes according to their dam’s performance and temperament. Hybrid vigour kicks in and since the calves are much better grown reaching a minimum 400kgs at 14 months bulling, the strategy has enabled us to go from calving heifers at 28 months to 24 months. The bulk of those heifers calve within the first two weeks, while the entire herd calves within three cycles; any that fall outside are culled.” Last season the herd scanned 95% and reared 93% calves.

Pre and post calving the herd thrives on forage, a silage-based diet supplemented with straw and pot ale syrup whilst housed. Plans are 

to turn out to graze if there’s sufficient grass two days after calving, however this is a weather dependent decision. Cows and steer calves continue grazing a paddock system until weaning at eight months when steers are housed, whilst cows with heifer calves are more commercially raised and drafted to the hill. 

All progeny, apart from replacements, have historically been sold on to the store market at 10 to 12 months, however Harry says the family is changing strategy. 

No one knows where the store market will be, it’s uncertain, whereas finishing provides us with more control, so we are trying to see if finishing off forage can be cost effective.”

The suckler herd is part of the bigger picture at Alnham Farm. “Historically the cattle have been hill improvers and extremely complementary to the 2,500 ewe outdoor lambing flock. “The herd 

continues to be a hugely valuable asset, they’re one of the farm’s building blocks and will have a place going forward if we continue to have anything to do with the decision making,” says Harry. 

While we are living in uncertain times, there are so many good farmers out there to learn from. We are frequently picking up and reading that we’d be better off trying to reduce our costs rather than increasing output. We’ve identified housing cows for 20 weeks of the year from 1 November as one of our biggest costs and consequently a key area for focus,” he says. 

“We don’t expect to completely eliminate the housing period, however, ideally we’d like to cut it by eight weeks to 10 to 12 weeks while continuing to house all the cattle a head of calving in March and make savings in terms of straw and fuel. So far, so good – by the third week of December the Simmental crosses were coping well outdoors. “If the weather does turn really bad, we always have the sheds available to bring the cows inside.” 

Alnham Farm joined the AHDB Farm Excellence project in 2021 for a four-year period as one of its four Monitor Farms, a network of a further 15 AHDB Strategic Farms. 

Outwintering at Alnham Farm: three main groups have been established 

40 Angus and Simmental cross heifers bale grazing 4ha of deferred grass, with haylage bales which are estimated to last until the mid-January 

70 Simmental cross cows on 9ha of bale grazing 

60 Angus cross cows strip grazing 34ha of hill 

“We have been quite particular about the sites we have chosen. They all have quite shallow soils and free draining, meaning they’re less likely to poach,” Harry explains. 

“After weaning, well-conditioned Angus cross cows are turned away onto hill ground, where they remain until mid- January, weather permitting. These are the unit’s priority group and if the weather does turn, they will be the first ones to be housed.” 

The Sordy family are not against calving outside, however they feel they need to build their confidence in the system first. “We went on a study tour to the Scottish Borders with the Monitor Farm programme and visited farms which were already outwintering. Learning from other farmers in this way is so valuable.” 

Stone Acton Farm

Stone Acton Farm



The Review features the Turner family at Stone Acton Farm, Church Stretton, Shropshire and where the multi trait strengths of the Simmental breed are providing the basis of a flexible low input system.

Simmental genetics have played a major role in the Turner family’s low input, high output commercial beef enterprise for more than four decades, and they have a firm future – pedigree heifers are being introduced to the unit to develop a new added value aspect to the business.

“Simmentals have consistently demonstrated great maternal instincts, they look after their calves and produce a lot of milk which encourages good growth rates, and they mature sufficiently early to calve at two years,” James explains. “They’ve also proved to fit our system being good forage converters, the same reason why we thought introducing the Hereford to a new crisscross breeding strategy over 50% of the herd would work, and it’s proving to be complementary, retaining all the maternal traits and adding to the docility element.”

The Hereford has not only achieved the Turner’s quest for hybrid vigour, but it has also opened up two new buyers for added value markets. All store calves by a registered Hereford bull, apart from those retained for replacement purposes, are sold to finishers for Waitrose’s Hereford Beef Scheme and a local butcher interested in selling branded meat.

Over half a century ago the Turners farmed a miscellany of native bred sucklers. Charolais was the first Continental breed to be introduced to Stone Acton, before swapping for the fast-emerging Simmental in the late ‘70s. “Temperament and ease of calving led us to source a pedigree Simmental bull and the breed has stood the test of time here for going on 45 years,” says Phil.

“We bought a few in calf cows and went on to steadily grow the pedigree herd. We did the county show circuit and sold bulls and replacement heifers, however by the late 80’s we realised it was becoming too time consuming, so we decided to rack back and concentrate on running a commercial spring calving herd producing store cattle along with replacement heifers for sale. Calves continue to be either sold weaned at eight months averaging 365kgs or overwintered on forage diets and sold as yearlings at an average 425kgs.”

“Wroxall genetics have remained at the heart of the herd with bulls bought privately and selected for polled bloodlines, with EBVs for ease of calving used as a guideline,” James explains. “Wroxall Hannibal threw some very shapely calves, however it was Wroxall Accumulator and Wroxall Hannibal who left the best bloodlines. They not only had shape, but they were also well fleshed and had very good growth rates. We are optimistic our new herd sire, Wroxall Lost Property will deliver similar quality calves – his first are due on the ground in 2023.”

Attention to detail is paramount at Stone Acton, a level of management that’s reflected in the herd’s performance. “All the heifers, for example, calve at 24 months, and in the last five years they’ve all reared their own calves,” James explains. “The whole herd achieves an average 97% calves reared from females put to the bull. In a so-called normal year, we would have between 95 and 105 cows and heifers in calf. We would normally only lose one or two calves and then if we’re lucky have one or two sets of twins, ensuring most cows would have at least one calf, all being well. However there have been exceptional years – in 2017 we had 17 sets of twins off 96 in calf cows and heifers.

“We bolus every female to enhance fertility and provide supplementary buckets pre calving, otherwise the herd totally depends on forage – grazing and quality silage and hay, and the majority calve in the first six weeks.”

Simmental is demonstrating the longevity factor too for the Turners.

All cows would have at least 10 calf crops and some up to 14. We still have cows that were born here in 2006, they started annually producing calves in 2008 and are scheduled to calve again in March 2023.

“We also pride ourselves on maintaining herd health. Apart from buying in high health status bulls, the herd has remained closed for over three decades. It is currently BVD accredited, Lepto vaccinated and Johne’s free.


The Turner family: James, his father Phil and uncle, Simon

  • 320 acres LFA grassland inc Mid-Tier
  • 20 acres woodland
  • 100 Simmental and Hereford cross Simmental breeding females

Stone Acton Farm, Church Stretton, Shropshire

  • 5 pedigree Simmental heifers
  • 24 months age at first calving
  • 96% scan
  • 97% calves reared inc twins
  • 10 to 14 crops of calves

“In addition, we’ve always invested in both Simmental and Hereford poll bulls and as a result don’t have to do any dehorning at all; polling takes away the stress for both us and the animal and removes any potential growth checks,” says James.

2023 sees the Turners embarking on a new journey when they introduce the first new pedigree Simmental genetics to their Stone Acton herd in 30 years. “We considered we needed some new bloodlines and buying in registered stock is providing us with the opportunity to rebuild the pedigree herd and develop a new added value enterprise.

“We’ve purchased five heifers from the Mixbury Hall herd, specifically selected for their high health status being BVD and IBR accredited, Johne’s Level I and Lepto vaccinated.”

To the future and James says the family is planning to maintain a flexible low input system. “There’s scope to make more from forage, potentially cutting back on the volume of sheep taken on winter tack, making minimal fertiliser applications, exploiting the red clover introduced to the silage leys and introducing GS4 mixes.” It’s a strategy that perfectly fits with Simmental which will continue to have a firm place.”

Brodieshill Farm

Brodieshill Farm



Feature on Colin and Robert Manson, Brodieshill Farm, Alves, Forres and their 140 cow Simmental based suckler herd. The Mansons will welcome visitors on 8th July 2023, when they host a British Simmental Open Day at Brodieshill Farm.

Since introducing the Simmental as a dual-purpose sire, the Manson family from Morayshire has been able to produce home-bred, medium sized replacements which can sustain the type of ground on their unit.

Father and son team Colin and Robert Manson, farm at Brodieshill, Alves, and have built up a good reputation for selling hi-health commercial bulling heifers and store cattle sold through Aberdeen and Northern Marts’ Thainstone Centre. The family has been at the 550-acre Brodieshill unit since 1947 and they now farm a total of 1100 acres which includes 400 acres of spring barley for malting, 25 acres of beans, 200 acres of rotational grazing and the rest permanent pasture, much of which is reclaimed hill ground.

Outwith the commercial suckler herd of 140 cows, the family also keeps 500 breeding ewes, 100 of which are Suffolk cross Mules lambed early in February. The main batch lamb in mid-March, with the first lambs away by the end of June when sold direct to Woodhead Bros at Turriff or Dunbia. Roberts’ wife Nicola has also diversified and opened a natural play area earlier this year, where she holds sessions for parents and children to explore, play and assist with animal care, and become more familiar with the farming seasons through information boards.

Colin and Robert previously used the Charolais as a terminal sire over Simmental crosses, producing bull beef and finished heifers, and bought in all replacements from other herds. “The first Simmental cross heifers were purchased 18 years ago from Bill and Garry Patterson, Upper Forgie, and we’ve never looked back since,” said Robert.

“Simmentals are docile and good to work with, and we needed a big, framed female that was fit to handle bigger Charolais calves. The only downside was that we couldn’t produce our own replacements with the Charolais, and we were having some difficult calvings so that’s why we’ve now moved to Simmental bulls, with a Salers used over the heifers for easier calving.”

The first Simmental bull used was Burghbridge Ricardo, purchased on recommendation from Gibby Scott, and the family now tend to buy top-quality bulls from local herds such as Islavale, Rockytop and Blackford. One of the dearest stock bulls to date is the 11,000gns Blackford Island Warrior, which is leaving more flesh and shape, with the recent Islavale sires doing equally well and bringing size into the breeding herd.

At present, the herd includes 140 suckler cows which are split calving from the end of February onwards and then from the end of July. All heifers have been pelvic measured since 2015 to cull out any not suitable for breeding.

The Simmental is capable of thriving on this type of ground, but it helps that our cows are medium-sized and generally weigh around 800kg.”

“We like to run a tight calving period, so bulls are out with the cows for 12 weeks and just 6 weeks with the heifers,” commented Robert. “Since moving away from the Charolais, we haven’t seen much of a difference in the weights of the calves, and we generally find that the Simmental calves are a good weight for age. The males used to be kept entire, but we soon realised that the stots could stand up to the other breeds in the store ring, so that’s the system we are following now.”

The spring cows are kept outside until the end of January, before coming inside and being wormed/fluked and blood tested for the Premium Cattle Health Scheme, which the herd has been a member of since 2016. They are also vaccinated with Rotavec prior to calving at the end of February and are then housed with their calves until May time, before calves are introduced to creep feed from mid-July. These cows and calves spend all summer on the reclaimed hill ground which Robert said is old grass and tough going.

“The Simmental is capable of thriving on this type of ground, but it helps that our cows are medium-sized and generally weigh around 800kg,” said Robert. “If we were breeding bigger Simmental cows around the 900kg-1000kg mark, I don’t think they would cope as well.”

Calves are weaned in mid-October and receive the first vaccination and wormer in September when the cows are scanned, and then are brought inside one month later when they receive their second vaccination. They thrive on a mix of home-grown barley, silage, beans, and cattle 35 pellet from Harbro, before being sold in February at Thainstone, where last year’s batch averaged 507kg at £1,197.57, and at 334 days.

More recently, autumn-born bullock calves have been weaned and kept inside for six weeks before being sold privately. The autumn calving cows calve outside next to the steading and they’re housed from the end of November. Only the cows and heifer calves head outside in May, with heifer calf outfits weaned from their mothers and kept inside on feed until being sold six weeks later.

With the Simmental being the only terminal sire amongst the cows, the females at Brodieshill are almost pure. Around 15 is kept for each herd, with the remainder sold to returned buyers through Thainstone in May, at 18 to 19-months-old.

Last year’s consignment averaged £1,625 (-£150 on the year) and the herd received a top price to date of £1,950. “We still have a fattening pen on the farm for any heifers that we don’t think would make the grade for breeding,” commented Robert. “We only sell what we would be happy to breed from ourselves.”

Robert is finding the Salers to be a successful cross over the heifers, producing hybrid vigour and females with good udders and feet.

“I think it’s important that breeders keep focus from a commercial point of view and focus on maternal traits,” concluded Robert. “When buying stock bulls, it’s important that they can produce replacements. As such we look for long, deep bulls with a bit of shape that will pass through onto our females.”

*Look out on the Society’s Facebook page for details of the 2023 British Simmental Cattle Society Open Day at Brodieshill Farm on Saturday 8th July.

Kilbride Farm

Kilbride Farm



Feature on the highly regarded Kilbride Farm Simmental Herd of the Society’s recently elected BSCS President Norman Robson, and the Robson family, based at Ballyclare, Co Antrim.

Elected in October 2022, British Simmental Cattle Society President Norman Robson is the third member of his family to hold this role – following in his father Billy and brother Michael’s footsteps. It is testament to the family’s enduring passion for the Simmental breed, which they’ve now been involved with for more than half a century.

Based in Ballyclare, Co Antrim, Norman and Michael run the Kilbride Farm herd in partnership, with Billy and Eileen officially retired, but still helping out – as do Norman’s son Angus and Michael’s son Matthew. It was founded in 1971,

with the purchase of four heifers from Germany, which formed part of the breed’s first importation to Northern Ireland. A further six heifers were bought the following year, which formed the basis of the herd.

Norman explains: “My father wanted to get into pedigree cattle and he felt that the Simmental offered us the most opportunities, which proved to be the case. Much of the progeny of those first females were exported to America – there was a big demand for Simmentals over there, and at that point they couldn’t import directly from Europe, but they could from us.”

The family worked away at improving the herd, using the best semen they could buy at that time, until their first stock bull was acquired in 1980. Billy ventured to France to select the bull ‘Orage’, which did exactly what they hoped he would. “Orage certainly put a stamp on the herd. He helped us increase growth, conformation and milk within the herd, and sired our first champion at the Perth Bull Sales, Kilbride Farm Perry, which went on to sell for 6,000gns, in 1985,” says Norman.

A few years later, the stock bull Moncur Sensation was bought privately and became the first Simmental to win the inter-breed title at Balmoral Show, also winning the breed’s Male of the Year title the same year, in 1989. Another bull that proved particularly influential on the herd in the earlier days was Milnafua Graduate, bought at Perth in 1998, which sired sons to 11,000gns, in addition to many high performing daughters.

Norman says: “Graduate daughters were very square females that calved easily on any bull and had plenty milk – we’ve had a lot of good bulls out of Graduate cows. While we were using Graduate, he hurt himself, which resulted in us using a home-bred bull, Kilbride Farm Newry, a son of Dovefields Gallant. We used him for two years before selling him to AI Services.” Newry went onto have a

huge influence on the breed and was one of the most used AI sires ever – topping the registration figures for several years in a row. For the Kilbride Farm herd, he sired successful breeding females and sons that made five-figure prices, including Kilbride Farm Strabane, which was champion at Perth in 2006 and sold for 10,000gns to the Blackford herd.

Another privately bought bull that performed well was Seaview Prince Charming, sire of the 2008 Perth champion Kilbride Farm Tarrant, which made 10,000gns to Corskie. And, Cairnview Snazzy, bought at Perth for 15,000gns, went onto be the sire or grand-sire to four Stirling champions, including Kilbride Farm Comber, the October, 2012 champion, which made 20,000gns.

The herd’s top price to-date is the 22,000gns Kilbride Farm Foreman, sold at Stirling in February 2016, where he was placed reserve supreme champion. His sire, Crugmelyn Brenin, was bought privately after being spotted at the English National Show. In addition to Foreman, a further two sons of Brenin sold privately at five-figure prices and his daughters became some of the best in the herd, with a few still remaining. Norman explains: “We do a fair bit of research before selecting a stock bull; we look at breeding lines and which ones are consistently doing well. Based on his genetics, we bought the homozygous polled bull Sneumgaard Imperator, as a three-month-old calf from Denmark. Michael was over there judging and visited the herd – they had two exceptional cows and he was a son of one of them.

We have been gradually introducing the polled gene over the years, slowly, in order to also maintain the qualities that our herd has become known for. Imperator has helped accelerate this.”

Imperator has been breeding well and as a result, 75% of the cows in the herd are now polled. The Robsons are also using a home-bred son of Imperator, Kilbride Farm Jetstream, which is out of a Brennin daughter. Of his first crop of calves, four sons sold to pedigree herds in 2022, and a further three are entered for the upcoming sale at Stirling in February ‘23.

In addition to realising the long-term benefits of breeding polled cattle, the Robsons also appreciate the advantages that new technology has brought to the breed. “We have always supported performance recording and can see the improvements that have been made in the breed as a result of having access to this information. If we’re importing a stock bull, we always take into account the growth rates and calving ease, from whatever system that country has. We have a 300-sow pig unit and have witnessed the major improvements that the pig industry has been able to make by using this technology.”

At present, the cattle herd comprises just short of 100 breeding pedigree cows, with half calving in the spring, from the end of March, and the rest between August and October. Norman says they run a commercial system and the cows are ‘not pampered in any way’. “They are housed on slats through the winter and they need to be very structurally sound to hold up to those conditions. The cows are naturally fleshed so they are cheap to keep over the winter. The spring calves are speaned when they come in, at six to seven months old, with the early autumn-born calves speaned in April when they go out to grass and the later autumn ones kept on the cow until June,” he adds.

Bulls and heifers have always been sold at Society sales at Stirling and Dungannon, but also privately, off the farm. This method increased in popularity during lockdown and Norman notes that the demand for private sales has remained high since then. Post-Brexit protocols with regards to movement rules, have resulted in Northern Ireland sellers being far more cautious when it comes to taking bulls across the water to sales. “There was a time when we would take a dozen bulls to Perth or Stirling, but there’s no way we would risk that now, with the current movement restrictions. I’d say the bulls that we sell at home are a slightly different type to the ones we send to Stirling, where a slightly bigger framed bull is more in demand. We have a good market for polled bulls sold from home.

“Those that don’t make the mark are kept entire and sold at just over a year old, direct to ABP. The last batch that went weighed an average 453kg and averaged out at £1,893 per head. Amongst them, there was one E grade, one R grade and the rest all U grades. The Simmental has always been renowned as a maternal breed, but it can also compete in the store market too, with impressive growth rates and days to slaughter.”

However, the demand for Simmental females, both pedigree and commercial, continues and in 2021 the family held an online sale to celebrate the herd’s 50th anniversary, where 13 heifers sold to average 4,500gns. At home, no bought-in females have been added to the herd for around 20 years. Instead, bulls are carefully selected to go on the five main cow families – Eunice, Dora, Laura, Iris and Fanni, which have all been breeding well for several generations.

Whilst Kilbride Farm stock often makes it into the top prize-list at pre-sale shows, the Robsons have not shown at summer shows for many years. Norman says they enjoyed their new-found free time the year of Foot-and-mouth when the shows were cancelled and haven’t gone back to it since.

“It also helps us protect the health status of the herd, but I can definitely see the benefits of showing at the summer events, from a promotional and social point of view”, he says.

“My father first got into Simmentals because he could see the potential of the breed and the opportunities for the breed to progress have never been greater.

We must build on the performance benefits the Simmental breed offers all types of farming systems – no other breed has the flexibility of the Simmental; from crossing on a Luing cow on the hill, to high output lowland suckler herds and as a crossing sire onto the dairy herd.

“With the environmental impact of beef farming under such scrutiny, the efficiency and sustainability of the Simmental will come to the fore – I’m proud to be President of the Society at this time and can hopefully help promote this message,” adds Norman.