Beef Shorthorn meeting demand in Northern Ireland
Beef Shorthorn registrations in Northern Ireland have increased considerably in Northern Ireland over the last few years, and there’s real potential for the trend to continue in order to meet with escalating commercial demand, reports William McAllister. “We believe the breed has a big future.
“We’re receiving enquiries first and foremost from suckler men seeking to inject some native blood in to their herd and their first call is Beef Shorthorn. These producers are beginning to appreciate that Beef Shorthorn is easy to keep off forage, cows are easily calved and they have plenty of milk. The breed is offering those ‘in demand’ maternal traits whilst the terminal sire is left to introduce the muscle; having said that, our pure Beef Shorthorn animals are not far behind our Continentals in terms of weight gain.”
He continues: “These same producers are also aware that both the pure and cross bred steers also have value – there is an opportunity for them to earn a premium from the Glenarm Shorthorn Beef, the award winning brand which is marketed on a wholesale basis to high-class hotels and restaurants throughout the province, to London and beyond.”
It was those strong maternal traits which attracted the McAllister family to invest in their first Beef Shorthorn genetics 10 years ago to establish their Burnside herd. “We’ve got to admit to having an addiction to breeding quality pedigree beef and sheep – the two complementary enterprises work really well and we have different interests, we’re always open to widening potential market opportunities and I’ve always liked Beef Shorthorn,” says William who works as a full time DARD import inspector, while his wife, Jill has a keen involvement in the herd which has since grown to eight breeding cows.
“Without doubt, the breed has proved everything it set out to be; all our cattle are grass fed, they’re wintered on straw courts, they calve themselves and they’re so easy to work with which is good from a family point of view. Our children Sophie, nine years and Charlotte, six are really keen to get stuck in to show ring activities - apart from calf handling they’re very active behind the scenes dressing cattle and do tails, whilst Elizabeth’s two young children, James and Sarah can be found in the lines; the show ring is very important - apart from being a big family affair, it is also our shop window.”
The McAllisters, who are synonymous with breeding quality stock, are frequently found in the final line up. In fact breeding and showing pedigree cattle is in the genes. William’s maternal grandparents, the Gettys had a successful pedigree Ayrshire herd, whilst his father, Brian, then assistant farm manager at Greenmount College, was among the first in the province to establish a pedigree Charolais herd in the late 1970s.Limousin followed, and then Beef Shorthorn in 2005.
“We initially choose Beef Shorthorn that were functionally correct, with good legs, good breed character, great style and with easy fleshing. Since then we have been very selective; we have a ruthless culling policy whilst Breedplan has become an increasingly important tool and animals must have the data to match,” he explains.
Burnside’s spring board to success was established with Trunley Secret Wonderful secured for 3,500gns in Perth. “She got us off to a great start breeding two Stirling winners – the junior champion, Burnside Dyce selling for 4,600gns and the reserve champion, Burnside Caveman for 6,500gns.
“We also invested in three Glenisla females including the 3,500gns in calf heifer, Glenisla Desiree who together with her daughter Burnside Bluebell went on to take the reserve title at the breed’s NI National Show. She also bred Burnside Elite selling in Stirling for the day’s top call of 8,500gns, whilst her heifer Burnside Honeysuckle was reserve champion at the NI breed’s National Calf Show. Another Desiree daughter, Burnside Francesca was awarded the Balmoral 2013 breed championship as a yearling heifer and was a member of the reserve interbreed group of three. That same year we paid 2,800gns for the in calf Glen Gloy Lovely Chanel. Nine months later she was placed reserve breed champion at the Balmoral.”
The four family partners meet around the kitchen table to discuss their farming operations at least once a week. Brian goes on to manage the feeding regimes, whilst William admits to having the final say when it comes to the breeding decisions.
“We are continually pushing to the top of the tree,” he says. “We bring only the very best to Stirling – we know it’s a one way trip, whilst the remainder are sold at the farm gate. So far we’ve had a string of bulls, all our heifers have been retained as replacements.”
To the future William plans to build Burnside to 10 quality breeding cows. “As demand for the breed continues to gain momentum, we believe Beef Shorthorn will have a big future role to play within the suckler sector. Watch this space.”
FACT FILE: The McAllister family partnership: Brian, Rosemary, William and Elizabeth
- 270 acres Kells, Ballymena, County Antrim
- 110 head of cattle including followers: pedigree Beef
- Shorthorn, Charolais, Limousin and Simmental plus commercial sucklers
- 330 breeding sheep: Beltex, Bleu du Maine, Charollais, Texel