Farm of the Week: Building up pedigree Limousin herd on the Earl of Halifax's Garrowby Estate
Clive Rowland has spent much of the past twenty years shaping the renowned Garrowby Limousins herd at Garrowby Farm on the Earl of Halifax’s estate and recently carried off the Cattle Farm of the Year title at the Yorkshire Post Rural Awards 2023.
Clive arrived as farm manager at Garrowby in 2001 and while he is also responsible for the 700 breeding ewes on the 750-acre farm, that has 150 acres of arable cropping, his passion is for breeding excellent cattle.
“I grew up with cattle and sheep. My mum was a Scottish farmer’s daughter, and my uncle farms in Cambridgeshire, my cousin too, near to where I grew up. I spent whatever time I could on their farm. I enjoy sheep work, but cattle are where my heart lies.
“When I first came to Garrowby we had a herd of 130 cows based around South Devon and Aberdeen Angus cows put back to Angus, South Devon and Limousin bulls but I was having a job selling them to try and earn some premium. It seemed better to breed something that I could sell to people nearer at hand.
“I had always taken an interest in Limousins and we began introducing them in the early part of the 2000s. We had a very small pedigree herd running alongside the commercial cattle but that grew and particularly so with the purchase of the whole herd where I’d bought bulls from for many years.
“Deciding what bull you are going to put on what cow, then waiting months, seeing what she had, what worked, what didn’t, that was always more my interest than the fattening side.
Clive says the purchase of the herd has propelled Garrowby Limousins further forward and that the investment made is proving worthwhile.
“I approached James, Lord Irwin, who is owner/occupier of Garrowby Farm and his father the Earl of Halifax about the opportunity that had been presented and we made the decision to buy the herd in its entirety. Cattle is now very much the main enterprise of the farm.
“We have since purchased other bulls to match up with the excellent pedigree cows, some of which we had already but the purchase of the herd upped our game to another level.
“Hopefully the new bulls we’ve introduced to the herd will propel us even further and they will continue pointing the herd in the right direction by bringing about good prices for our stock at livestock markets and through sales off farm.
While there is a lot of investment involved, just like sporting teams this doesn’t always guarantee success.
“There is always a degree of luck involved, no matter how professional you are,” says Clive.
“I’m a firm believer in using natural bulling rather more so than AI to get more consistency through herd and that seems to work for this herd. We do a bit of AI with heifers, and embryo work, but we largely use the impressive stock bulls we’ve purchased.
“The other side of the AI coin is that the semen we take off these bulls is now quite a big part of our income.
Today’s Garrowby Limousins herd and the commercial herd work alongside each other, hand-in-hand, producing quality stock for other farmers and, different to when Clive arrived, there is now very little stock that is fattened for market.
“We run up to about 200 suckler cows,” says Clive. “Of which 100 are commercial-based around Limousin and Limousin-cross-Blue cows put back to the Limousin bull.
“What we are trying to showcase to other commercial cattle men and women is how well our own homebred bulls are performing. That’s what people will see in the local markets when they see our stock. We then pick up new customers on the pedigree side from the quality of our commercial calves.
“Our commercial calves are creep-fed until they leave the farm at around seven to eight months when they are sold through Malton, Leyburn and Darlington livestock markets. We are finding that all our heifer calves, those surplus to our own requirements as replacements, are now being bought as replacements for suckler herds. The majority of our male commercials will go into bull beef. Some of the better ones we will sell as breeding bulls.
“We calve all our commercials and one third of the pedigree herd in spring, from March for around 10-12 weeks. The remainder of the pedigrees calve from October, specifically for timing them to be ready for selling the bulls at 18-20 months in the big February and May bull sales at Carlisle.
Clive says the Garrowby Limousins herd is made up of around 80 pedigree Limousins plus 20 recipient females.
“We put embryos from the very best cows in the herd into Fleckvieh heifers that have lots of milk, are big and can calve a pedigree Limousin bull calf down relatively easily. Everything is high health status, following strict quarantine rules coming on to the farm.
“We produce all our own pedigree replacements, usually keeping between seven to ten heifers each year. The rest of the heifers go to either Carlisle or are sold to private buyers direct off farm. We also sell a lot of bulls off farm, with the very best going to Carlisle and other big sales.
“Our best price we’ve received for a bull so far was when we sold Garrowby Shipley at the May bull sale in Carlisle for 22,000 guineas. We averaged about 9500 guineas across the five bulls we took that day. In the recent October sale we averaged 11,000 guineas for the first two sons of a bull I’d bought called Grahams Rooney.
Rather like legends in sporting teams, Clive tells of legends of the Garrowby Limousins and those now making an impact.
“Glenrock Ventura is a bull I will always look back on with pride for what he gave us. Our logo is based around his silhouette. He was the bull that set our herd on the right track. I bought him at a fraction of his original cost elsewhere of 24,000 guineas, to work with our commercial cows.
“Plumtree Fantastic is another. He earned an absolute fortune in semen sales and lived until the ripe old age of 14. He was a legend throughout the Limousin world and highly influential to us.
“More recently, I bought Red Rooney from Scotland for 28,000 guineas to add size and length to our heifers; and Blaencwm Sam from Wales for 32,000 guineas. He’s a shapelier, thicker set bull. He’s been to have semen taken off him and we will be using him at home on our cows to cross on to the Rooney females.
Showing is also very much a part of the enterprise, as a shop window.
“We returned to the Great Yorkshire Show this year and picked up a third and fourth with two Rooney heifers,” says Clive.
“One heifer, Garrowby Toffee, is going to the Limousin Red Ladies sale next month. She picked up four breed championships and an Interbreed championship in summer.