Farm of the Week: Young mum who accidentally became one of Yorkshire's leading pedigree cattle breeders

Six years ago the purchase of two cows from Selby livestock market set one South Yorkshire farmer on her way in the pedigree cattle world, bringing a new name into the Charolais breeding ranks.

The French breed made its first appearance on British soil in the 1950s which led to the establishment of the British Charolais Cattle Society. The society’s World Congress will visit farms and shows, including this year’s Great Yorkshire Show.

Stephanie Hanks, of Throninghurst Farm, in Thorne, Doncaster, said that two of her Charolais will be shown in Harrogate next month. This will be her herd’s debut with a young heifer and young bull from the Gilleard herd, named after her partner Stephen.

She said: “I like Charolais because they are quiet and easy to handle. We never set out to go into the breed. We’d bought these two cows at Selby and didn’t know they were pedigree until we’d got them home and looked at their certificates. They were intended to just go into the suckler herd we had started in 2014.

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    Stephanie Hanks didn't initially realise that the first two cows she bought were pedigrees

    “I did some research and found they were reasonably well-bred pedigree stock and we’ve grown from there to a herd of 15 cows and heifers and running one stock bull. I’d like to get to 20 cows.

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    “We purchased another five from Borderway Mart, in Carlisle, and another three that we bought privately and since then we have retained daughters to build up the herd.

    “Our first stock bull was Logan Leonardo. We were very lucky with him as he produced stock that has been very easy calving, some hellishly good heifers that are now great breeding cows, and calves that have a very good growth rate. We used him on all of our commercials as well as our pedigree Charolais because he was that good.

    She also breeds sheep with four-year-old daughter Georgina

    “The cows and heifers we have are really milky and that’s why we are able to produce good quality males and females that can go on and work with other herds or achieve such good growth as finishing stock that they are ready at 12-14 months."

    Stephanie said she is looking forward to showing at the Great Yorkshire Show next month but still feels very new to the Charolais scene.

    “We’re taking a 2021-born heifer out of a polled cow that was put to our previous stock bull Tophill Oscar who we sold on to another pedigree herd last September and 2021-born bull out of a Gretnahouse cow and also sired by Oscar. I buy a bull on the strength of what I like and what I see in front of me. I like him to have a good manly and clearly Charolais head, good top line and some shape. The hardest bit I find at the moment is trying to find that next bull each time."

    Stephanie said she prefers natural bulling rather than AI and even though she uses both on the herd she is aware of the presence of a bull and the difference it makes with her females.

    With Smirnoff, one of her bulls

    “Our Charolais females look lost without a bull in the field. When they went back out in the field in April I hadn’t a bull with them. They stayed at the bottom of the field. When Rolex joined them they all suddenly perked up and came to the top of the field.”

    Stephanie said the Charolais cannot be touched either fat wise or commercially, even though Stephen has the Limousin breed and far more of them.

    “We sent a Charolais bull to Selby last week. He wasn’t even 15 months and he went for over £2,000. Other breeds might be up there on price per kilo but not weight. People might say they got the top price, but how long have they kept it? Charolais cattle finish quicker, fact.”

    The backbone of the farm business at Throninghurst is the hay and straw enterprise, and now is the busiest time of year for Stephen, cutting and baling hay from the farm’s 110 acres and other rented land and then baling straw in July.

    Stephen has been doing it that way for over 20 years and previously with his dad George who Stephanie said was still stacking bales up to two years ago when he was 89 years old.

    “We deliver hay and straw to pedigree breeders and dairy farmers in Scotland. It was Stephen’s dad who built up the trade. It was straw bales that saw the move into cattle on the farm.

    “We started in 2014 buying stores. We had waste bales, tops and bottoms of stacks, that Stephen thought we could use as cattle bedding instead of having to give them away or leaving them to rot. He’d pulled into Chelford market one day and had bought a couple of cattle he’d thought were cheap. That’s how we got going.

    “We bought our first commercial cow in 2015, a South Devon-cross that we still have. Stephen likes Limmies, so we’ve built up a herd of 48 cows and heifers and have four Limousin stock bulls."

    They held a Limousin Open Day at Throninghurst last year but Stephanie said that what was amazing at their open day was the interest in her Charolais herd.

    “Everyone wanted to see them. I’d like to host a Charolais Open Day here to get to know more breeders in the area. We are doing everything we can to have the best Charolais. We pelvic measure and we know how important good calving figures and EBVs are to the future of anyone’s herd.”

    Stephanie said Charolais breeder Sean Mitchell, of Skelton, in Cumbria, will be showing their cattle breed entries at Harrogate while she concentrates on the sheep classes.

    “Sean comes to help with the cattle. I will be showing our Dutch Spotted sheep with our four-year old daughter Georgina. We only have a very small flock of eight ewes but when we sold our first packet of lambs at Carlisle last year we had reserve female champion.

    “The Dutch Spotteds are Georgina’s as she likes sheep more than cattle.

    Stephanie’s background is horse riding. She has taught riding, competed at a decent level in show jumping and once bred a horse. Stephanie said that breeding Charolais cattle has now become her passion.

    “Sixty years on and the breed still can’t be beaten. That’s pretty good in my book.”