Limousin breeding a big part of equation in Hilltown, Co Down

NI Limousin Cattle Club representative Jim Quail visiting owner Murtagh Walls, Hilltown on his farm outside Hilltown to get his take on grassland farming and his limousin suckler herd.
NI Limousin Cattle Club representative Jim Quail visiting owner Murtagh Walls, Hilltown on his farm outside Hilltown to get his take on grassland farming and his limousin suckler herd.

Murtagh Walls is a farmer with a beautiful view on his home farm situated in Hilltown at the foot of the Mourne Mountains, Co Down. His hill farm of 130 acres has been in the Walls family for four generations and he maintains an exceptional suckler herd production along with his wife Geraldine and son, Niall.

The farm is all used as grassland producing two cuts of quality silage in early June and early August and currently holds 48 suckler cows and a 70-strong flock of sheep.

An example of the exceptional cross bred limousin cows on farm breed for maternal traits and milk to give calves the start they need

An example of the exceptional cross bred limousin cows on farm breed for maternal traits and milk to give calves the start they need

The cows on the farm have 7/8ths and 3/4ths Limousin breeding with good milk production. Murtagh mainly uses a pedigree Limousin bull to cover cows along with a little AI. His current stock bull was purchased at a Limousin Society Sale in Dungannon, sired by Dauphin and purchased from local pedigree breeder Newhillfarm, Michael McPolin, Newry.

When asked what appealed to Murtagh about this bull, he replied: “I like a bull with good maternal traits, good feet and conformation with a really good top line. I have always used Limousin bulls with good milk figures as this is needed for heifer replacements back into the herd. I need a cow to raise her calf well and be a good mother.”

He continued: “I have always used Limousin and have done so over the 35 years I have farmed. Their carcase qualities and how they finish easily is perfect for my farm. At the moment I have 29 cows calved with 30 living calves and have had neither caesareans nor very little assistance in calving even with my heifers.”

Murtagh splits his cows into two batches - one Autumn calving late August/September and one Spring calving in February and March. He tries to avoid calving over the winter months.

Autumn calves are then weaned off cows on May 1 and put to grass with Spring calves weaning off in early September so as to allow those cows to come in for wintering in good condition. Cows are fed good quality silage on slates and cubicles over winter with the exception of the Spring calving cows that have a mix of straw, barley and gluten. Because Murtagh’s farm is dry ground he is able to put cattle out as early as the end of February through the day and housed at night.

Murtagh’s method of farming has proven very successful by rearing and finishing calves without the need for excessive feeding. The bull calves are all finished for slaughter under the age of 16 months and average at a carcase weight of 370 kilos with the majority grading at a ‘U’. His heifers are either held as replacements, sold to local farmers for suckler production or to a local butcher.

Murtagh adds: “Farming is hard these days and it is a lot of work sometimes for very little reward. I think starting out as a young farmer nowadays would be a hard task. I’m too young to retire yet so I have to keep looking at ways to make farming a profitable business which is where the Limousin comes in.”

Murtagh’s concept in farming shows that good housekeeping, good quality grazing and having quality stock held on farm all helps to achieve his goals although he will continue to constantly looks to see how things can be improved to help in the future.

The next BLCS Show & Sale is scheduled to take place on Bank Holiday Monday on the 4th of May at Ballymena Livestock Mart. Sponsored by Ulster Bank Ltd and Connon General Merchants, there are 65 bulls and 28 females catalogued for the event and these can be viewed at the pre-sale show at 10am judged by Kevin McCall, Armagh with the sale following at 1pm.

Catalogues are available online on www.limousin.co.uk or from Ballymena Mart 028 2563 3470.