As they prepare for the Royal Highland Show later this week Rodney Magowan reports from the Newtownards farm of James and Sam Martin.
At the 1982 Royal Show an Ulster lad hardly into his teens was intrigued by a small stand promoting the then virtually unknown Belgian Blue breed.
At the 2016 Royal Ulster he won the prestigious Interbreed championship with stunning British Blue cow Springhill Golden Girl - the first Blue to take the Balmoral interbreed beef award though certainly not the first time in the spotlight for Springhill stock.
eflecting on his family’s Balmoral success James Martin of Newtownards, Co Down recalled returning home from Stoneleigh 34 years ago determined to find out more about the Blues.
“Only in 1987 were we finally able to acquire foundation stock for our Springhill Herd, one of the two oldest British Blue herds in Northern Ireland. Interestingly our herd and that of the Morrison family likewise formed in the 1980s both produce white bulls.
“Our first Blue was a heifer out of Belgium with further foundation stock coming from the Watford Park Herd in Northants,” added James, who now farms with 21 year old son Sam.
Aside from their beef breeding enterprise centred on 25 British Blue cows the Martins have a 150 strong dairy herd milk of mainly Holsteins, though the family has long had an interest in Jerseys.
“My late Dad milked some Jerseys and more recently we were farmer co-researchers with AFBI, Hillsborough looking at the role of Jerseys in boosting milk value.
“So over the years our pedigree Blue breeding has been grounded in the realities of commercial milk and beef production. Indeed the bulls we produce are especially appreciated by dairy farmers seeking white bulls that add colour as well as shape and value to calves from Holstein cows.
“The sheer docility of the breed is another huge bonus for suckler and dairy herd owners. The British Blue, pure or half bred, is a pleasure to behold and a pleasure to work with in an era of ever fewer helping hands on farms. Our priority is producing bulls that are mobile, willing and able to work siring small, fast growing calves easy on cows at calving time.”
The 2016 Royal Ulster interbreed championship was won against a tremendous turnout of beef cattle at Balmoral not least in the Blue classes.
Explaining that this cow is a five year old homebred daughter of Gitan Du P’ Tit Mayeur out of Springhill Country Girl a delighted Sam Martin said that winning is never taken for granted despite the herd’s decades of success at shows and sales across the UK.
Springhill Golden Girl was shown with her four month old bull calf at foot, Springhill Leo, a naturally conceived and naturally born son of Springhill Gladiator, one of three bulls from the Martin family currently at AI with Cogent.
As we go to press Springhill Golden Girl is being prepared for the Royal Highland Show 20 years after the Martins won the 1996 Blue Championship at Edinburgh and came home with the RHS Gold Cup.
That 1996 Royal Highland winner Springhill Lady is linked directly through four generations to the 2016 Royal Ulster interbreed champion Springhill Golden Girl, an example of how Springhill stock are consistently toppers in the show ring, at main breed sales and above all in putting quality calves on the ground for buyers.
For Balmoral 2016 interbreed judge Arwel Owen, a leading Charolais breeder of Welshpool, Powys his Royal Ulster champion Springhill Golden Girl was a “a testament to the British Blue breed, an animal that demonstrates just what the breed has achieved so far.”
For Sam Martin college studies and excellent work placements, including at Borderway Mart, are behind him. Having come home to join parents James and Sharon in the family business Sam shows tremendous commitment to helping them continue breeding the best of British Blues.
With continued investment in leading bloodlines internationally and a proven track record of blending traditional husbandry skills with the latest technology the Martin family retain that essential thirst for continued success with Springhill stock.