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Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Tynedale: Cattle enthusiasts travel miles for monthly meetings

FUN and laughter might be the hallmarks of the Northumbria Holstein Breeders’ Club, but its latest annual awards ceremony demonstrated its members mean business.

Established in 1973, the club’s monthly meetings take place in Stocksfield’s Dr Syntax pub where, last Thursday, their hard work and success was recognised in its herds competition.

The heifer on inspection category – won by father and son team David and Michael Howie, of Acklington, with Morwick Tulip 96 – perhaps best encapsulates the current focus of the industry.

While judges were interested in the overall look of the cow, its underlying strength was now considered crucial, said club member Stephen Ball.

“Everybody is now trying to breed a bit of power back into the cows.

“They developed fine bones when we were trying to produce an ideal cow and maybe lost sight of how little time the cows were lasting.

“So breeders are all trying to put a bit of strength and durability back into them.

“It’s the buzz word of the industry nowadays – longevity.”

The category could be rather subjective, depending on what the judge of the day liked the look of, but the mammary system was important – as were the feet and legs.

“You are keeping a cow for milk, so a decent mammary system that’s going to last is key,” he said.

“But they have to have good feet and legs to walk around on – it’s not much point having a good looking cow, but not the strength needed to carry them around.

“A good functional cow, that’s what we need!”

Stephen, who farms near Berwick – the club’s members hail from the Scottish borders down to Hartlepool – won both the mature cow and super cow categories with 10-year-old Chloanne Webster Gracious.

(For the uninitiated, Chloanne is the herd name, Webster is her sire’s name and Gracious her personal name.)

Entrants must have produced more than 75 tonnes of milk (75,000 litres) during their working life.

Gracious, currently in her eighth lactation, has given 104 tonnes to date.

To be anointed ‘super cow’, she also had to look good and live up to the ideal amount of fat and protein within her last lactation. “We do a lot of number crunching for that one!”

One category in particular can be a tricky affair – the best cow family, requiring four or five related females. Stephen laughed: “It’s no easy feat, I can put forward four or five from the same family, but they might not all be stunners.”

The remaining competition categories included top herd for total milk production, the most improved herd, top herd on inspection and top herd person of the year, notable for their knowledge and passion – Stephen scooped that last award.

The judge for this year’s competition was Stephen Brough and the awards evening was sponsored by I’Anson Brothers Ltd.

The Northumbria Holstein Breeders’ Club is something of a focal point for those working in the hard-pressed dairy industry.

While its membership has dropped to 40 as a steady succession of their colleagues have either retired or gone out of business, the members that remain are a positive, buoyant bunch.

“We are a merry band of cow enthusiasts,” said Stephen, cheerily.

The club isn’t restricted to Holsteins; it also counts breeders of Ayrshire, Montbéliarde and shorthorns amongst its ranks.

“There are highs and lows whatever the breed,” he said, “but we’re all in the same industry, so it’s good to come together and talk.”

Besides the annual herds competition, the club enjoys many another competitions, quizzes and social events.

The stock-judging event held each spring is another example of business and fun going hand-in-hand.

Members all become judges for the night as they inspect two groups of cows, with six animals in each.

Having filled in their score cards, the goal is to be as close to the judge’s marking as possible.

“The master judge is always right!” said Stephen.

“It’s just a bit of fun, but it was designed originally to help younger members develop their skills, appreciate what goes into the industry and learn what a judge is looking for.”

The annual calf show the club holds at Hexham Mart each August has been launched with the same aim in mind – giving young people a leg up in the industry.

“It’s particularly good for our youngsters coming up through the ranks, because the morning is all about the handling.

“The afternoon is all about the calf classes that have been judged, but you could have the best calf in the world, but show it off terribly.

“The classes in the morning are a good learning ground.”

Just as the club is, the show is now open to Ayshires, Montbéliardes and shorthorns, as well as Holsteins.

It was a truer reflection of club membership and added a bit of variety to competitions, said Stephen.

“And anyway, those who predominantly breed Ayshires, Montbéliardes and shorthorns tend to have some Holsteins in their herds, too.”

The strength and pleasure of the Northumbria Holstein Breeders’ Club is such that Stephen is prepared to do a 140-mile round trip to take part in its meetings and events.

“I like it for the fact it doesn’t get political,” he said.

“I’ve known many clubs where people need to get into the real world, but I can honestly say as a club, there’s nobody like that here.

“Everybody is in this for the sociable side and the chance to share our interest and experiences.

“It’s well worth the effort of travelling – I love it!”

The club always provides a warm welcome for new members and Marion and John Watson, who farm at Healey, would be pleased to hear from interested parties. Their telephone number is (01434) 682847.