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Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnane hails from a sixth-generation drystock and specialised pedigree suckler enterprise in Co. Mayo. She currently holds the positions of editor and general manager at That's Farming, having joined the firm during its start-up phase in 2015.
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‘This led to the herd being sold in its entirety’ – pedigree Limousin breeders

In this week’s Suckler Focus, That’s Farming, speaks to the Nicholls family of Hitchetts Hill Limousins about returning to their roots, establishing a pedigree herd and their resounding success at agricultural shows.  

Joe Nicholls, along with his wife, Natalie, and his brother, William, established the renowned Hitchetts Hill Limousin herd from scratch.

Although the Nicholls, Derbyshire, have only returned to their roots in recent years due to personal circumstances, farming has been a long-honoured tradition down through the generations.

Joe’s and William’s grandparents operated a dairy and commercial beef herd, while their parents previously farmed a pedigree Limousin suckler herd.

Joe told That’s Farming: “Following the marriage breakdown of mine and William’s parents, we were left deeply upset as this led to the herd being sold in its entirety.”

“Our mother retained the farm and actively encouraged us to make use of the outbuildings to start our own herd. My wife, Natalie, has also had a farming background with her grandfather being a farmer and owning his own butchering business producing and supplying his own products.”

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Humble beginnings for Hitchetts Hill Limousins

In December 2018, they took a leap of faith, establishing the herd with two weanling heifers. William attended the Red Ladies Derby at Carlisle, where he carefully selected their first female, Dinmore Nutella, before acquiring Dinmore Onita.

William has always expressed a keen interest in showing cattle, and the brothers had been contemplating starting off their own herd for some time.

He had been familiar with the breeder as he had spent some time at Dinmore to assist with sale preparation in the past.

He was pleased to receive guidance from well-known stockman Richard Bartle in selecting these heifers. The family have since gone on to purchase several other heifers from the Dinmore herd.

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Show season

In 2019, William finally managed to get his white coat out again, and they had a successful season showing Dinmore Nutella and Dinmore Onita.

Both heifers performed “exceptionally well” at the local shows, including Dinmore Nutella, who placed Limousin champion on two occasions at Ashby and Ashover.

Their foundation females placed first their respective class during their debut appearance at Staffordshire County Show. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, all shows last year had been cancelled, along with the majority of the early shows this season.

“William has previously been a member of the Young Limousins Club and has gained a lot of experience in handling cattle as well as preparing them. He has a natural talent for preparing them for showing, and this is always to a high standard.”

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Following on from this, their herd has since expanded to a total of 14, including cows, first calving heifers, maiden heifers, weaned and unweaned calves. In addition, they have a selection of foundation cattle for their herd and intend to develop and expand these over time.

Running Hitchetts Hill Farm, Derbyshire is a part-time affair for the family as Joe currently works for British Gypsum mining, Natalie is a trainee legal executive for a law firm in Stoke-on-Trent and William works full-time on a large-scale dairy farm.

Herd quality and health

When selecting animals for their herd, they must meet certain criteria, including high health status and breeding information.

“We aim to breed long, milky, docile animals. To note feel docility is very important within our herd as Limousins are known to many farmers to be quite flighty.”

“We selected the Limousin breed as we feel they are the breed of today and the future. They are currently making excellent prices through markets across the UK and are continuously recognised for their suckler qualities and meat potential.”

They operate a 100% AI system using e Kamar to monitor a female’s cycle before the heat period to assist with accuracy.

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Moving forward, their objective is to produce healthy bulls and heifers to offer to the pedigree market. In addition, they intend to retain what they regard as “the best” bull and heifer calf each year to enable them to exhibit them at agricultural shows.

“At this stage, we do not intend to obtain a stock bull, but this may change in the future. We are currently looking at trying a heat monitoring system to improve the accuracy of service.”

“Once an animal has calved, we have the vet to check over the animal to ensure it is healthy and can proceed with the AI process. We feel this gives us peace of mind when looking at serving the animal.”

“When selecting bulls for AI, we tend to go for milky bloodlines with easy calving and short gestation. We then PD cattle after 40 days of service to ensure they have held in-calf.”

They aim to serve all heifers at approximately 24 months to allow them to have an opportunity to “fully grow and develop” before calving. Their calving time falls around the first three months of the year to achieve an early turn-out date.

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Grassland management and society involvement 

Coupled with their emphasis on superior genetics is a primary focus on grassland management, which they regard as a key practice”. “We like to keep the cattle on fresh grass at all times when turned out and to implement field rotation regularly.”

“Also, we are keen to ensure our cattle have the best in the way of nutrition and regularly consult with our local merchant, Mark Smith of Collycroft, who assists with haylage analysis, corn nutrition, vitamin and mineral advice and other aspects of management such as worming regime.

The family is part of a higher health scheme and regularly tests and vaccinates animals for BVD and other diseases. Furthermore, they register all cattle with the British Limousin Cattle Society, which permits them to attend society sales and part take in agricultural shows.

“We are also members of the North West Midlands and North Wales Limousin Breeders’ Club and are looking forward to entering herd competitions once these are back up and running.”

“During the winter months, a lot of time is spent with the cattle, including tying them up to ensure they are used to being handled and halter training starts. We halter train all animals as we find this is a good way to work with them safely and ensure they can be handled.”

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Highlights and reflection

Reflecting on their journey to date, Joe commented: “My highlight was seeing our first heifer, Dinmore Nutella, calf down with a bull calf from the renowned bull, Ampertaine Foreman. He is turning into a lovely animal, and William is looking forward to showing him next year.”

William said: “My highlight was in 2019 when we attended Staffordshire County Show. This was our first show with Dinmore Nutella and Dinmore Onita, and both went on to win their respective class.”

Natalie commented: “My highlight was when our first calf, Hitchettshill Ruby, was born on the farm. She has great shape and potential, and we look forward to retaining her in the herd to breed with in the future,”

Joe continued: “One of the difficulties we face is all three of us work full-time jobs, but we ensure that every spare minute is spent with the cattle.”

“Moving forward, we wish to continue to progress our herd by implementing technology such as a computer-based system for storing dates, weights and other key information,” Joe of Hitchetts Hill Limousins concluded.

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