Read about how the Breed Shorthorn breed has excelled in the commercial suckler herd of the Fitzsimons family.
A visit to the NI Beef Shorthorn National Show at Glenarm Castle some ten years ago was a turning point for County Down beef farmer, Barry Fitzsimons.
Having always been drawn to the breed, he became aware of the Glenarm Shorthorn Beef Scheme that day and the potential benefits that it could offer beef finishers locally.
Within a short time, Barry secured his first Beef Shorthorn stock bull to run with his 45-cow herd of suckler cows.
Bawnforth Farm – nestled within the rolling countryside between Dromara and Ballynahinch – is approximately 400 feet above sea level.
It extends to 150-acres, divided into two holdings. Barry, a retired stockbroker, farms in partnership with his wife, Frances, son, Craig, and with the help of grandson, Tom (11).
Beef Shorthorn herd
Over the years, the Fitzsimons have always fitted their beef and sheep farming enterprise around full-time employment off the farm
It has been essential for the cow and calf enterprise to be easy managed.
A key component is temperament, especially as the farms involve moving stock on a public road.
He believes introducing Beef Shorthorn to the herd’s breeding programme has “significantly” improved the cow’s temperament and their calves, an element that has not gone unnoticed by herdowner, Barry.
“We no longer dread walking the cattle between farms as the docility of the Beef Shorthorn shines through.”
“This is also evident at calving time when the females are quiet and a pleasure to work with.”
They calf cows in March and April, with a view to keeping calving patterns as tight as possible.
With the Shorthorn influence enhancing fertility in the breeding herd, this is “easily” achieved.
Calves remain on their dams until January and are creep fed, ensuring a “seamless” separation at weaning.
They retain most of the heifer calves to assist with increasing the overall herd size using homebred Beef Shorthorn replacements.
Glenarm Beef Scheme
A strong relationship has built up over the years with Bryan Wilson, Glenarm Beef Scheme.
He calls out with the Fitzsimons to select cattle for slaughter through the Glenarm brand.
All steers they reared on the farm are finished through the scheme and must fit the required specification.
- Carcase Weight: 280-380 KG;
- Conformation: R or O+;
- Fat class: 4L – 4H.
The Glenarm Beef Scheme stick “rigidly to” these criteria. They feel it offers the “absolute” best eating quality and texture for their customers.
In return for producing Beef Shorthorn prime cattle in line with the specification, members of the scheme receive a bonus payment.
Barry explains, “We pay a nominal membership fee annually to be part of the Glenarm Beef Scheme.”
“However, the benefits we reap as beef finishers are substantial.”
“In comparison to similar steers not killed through Glenarm, we can see added value to the tune of £131 per head.”
“If you put that across a wagon load of cattle, the extra payment soon adds up!”
The easy fleshing of the Beef Shorthorn blended with Shorthorn-cross-Simmental, or Shorthorn-cross-Limousin cows is also pleasing the Fitzsimons.
“In addition to the benefits of selling finished cattle through the scheme, we are also delighted that our stock is ready for slaughter much sooner in comparison to breeds we have used previously, which were ready just under 30 months.”
“The most recent Beef Shorthorn steers killed ranged from 19-24 months of age, so there is a massive saving in terms of finishing costs.”
The farmers believe the breed’s influence is certainly a major factor in improving the overall profitability at Bawnforth.
In just ten years, the Fitzsimons have enjoyed watching their suckler herd improve, and in recent times, received several awards in the NI Beef Shorthorn Club’s Commercial Herds’ Competition.
Looking ahead,the plan is to continue to manage their farm system as they do now.
When the cowherd is at maximum capacity, once again, Barry and son, Craig, hope to establish regular clients for surplus in-calf commercial heifers.
Beef Shorthorn cattle sale
Almost 30 pedigree registered Beef Shorthorn bulls and females will go under the hammer at Dungannon Farmers’ Mart next month.
The Native Breeds Sale will occur on Tuesday, February 8th, 2022.
According to a NI Beef Shorthorn Club spokesperson, this provides an “excellent opportunity” for pedigree and commercial farmers alike.
In a statement, a spokesperson for the group said:
“For those wishing to source a new stock bull and perhaps tap into the bonus payments for commercial stock, there are 17 bulls listed in the catalogue.”
“Also included are a number of well-bred cows and heifers from leading breeders.”
“A feature of the sale is the reduction of the Ardean herd from Ms Sara Isaly. This is packed full of top bloodlines,” the spokesperson concluded.