When the French Revolution began in the late 1950s, the UK cattle scene was set to change irrevocably.
Our self-proclaimed titular head as Stockyard of the World, sending such as Angus and Hereford cattle around the globe, was, rather like the French aristocracy of the late 18th century, on the chopping block.
New names to us such as Charolais, Limousin and Blonde d’Aquitaine were to become part of our livestock market, breed sale and breed programme vocabulary as producers sought the perfect stock bull, the best easy calving cow and beef animals that would finish more quickly and present a leaner meat with less waste for the butcher.
Today, ask nearly any butcher the beef he or she prefers, and the stock answer is invariably a Limousin X beast. It’s not the same everywhere.
In many countryside butchers, farm shops and amongst the now dwindling population that can recall the halcyon days of native breeds such as Hereford X, beef is revered for its taste due to its greater fat content – Lincoln Red, Galloway, Belted Galloway and Beef Shorthorn are all in this category. Online butchers have assisted in their and other breeds’ rekindling in recent years.
Anywhere in the world Aberdeen Angus is still widely respected and the Japanese-breed Wagyu, specifically Kobe Wagyu, has in more recent times become a restauranteur’s steak favourite, but the French influence remains strong in the UK with other breeds, specifically the Salers, having made a stirring impact in the past two decades.
There are many others on the rise, including the Stabiliser developed from European and UK breeds, but the Charolais remains a firm favourite in the terminal sire breeding stakes and in Yorkshire we have one of the most renowned Charolais breeders in the world.
Billy Turner of Linghams and Brampton Hall, Skelton-on-Ure has flown the Charolais flag for nearly 50 years. Ably supported by his daughter, Sarah, for much of that time; backed by his wife Jane in the early years and now with young local man, Michael Dumbreck, at the helm the Brampton herd, which has brought about so many success stories, continues to thrive.
“Last year we had breed champion at North Yorkshire County Show with a young bull Brampton Omar,” says Michael. “He went on to become reserve champion at the Great Yorkshire Show. We are on the up again and we’re looking forward to 2020.”
Such positivity is music to Billy’s ears – a man who, now well into his ninth decade, retains his wonderful smile. In what has been a fantastic career that has seen he and Sarah win almost every accolade in the showing and cattle sale world it is Michael’s enthusiasm for taking the herd forward that both Billy and Sarah find refreshing.
“Michael took over from me in 2013,” says Sarah. “And he’s really progressed. He won the young breeders’ award last year and went to Canada judging. He’s also been asked to judge at Welshpool this year.
“You’ll never beat a Charolais for weight gain or as a grazing beast. It is still the number one sire to put on to crossbred cows and that’s why we continue to have a herd of 90 pedigree suckler cows and currently three stock bulls of our own.”
When Billy began focussing on the breed back in the early 1970s he took the route of AI rather than conventional bulling, buying in semen from the best Charolais bulls around. Jane was his inspiration.
“In the late 60s and into the 70s I was fairly big on fattening cattle. My father George had been an excellent livestock man, and I’d fatten over 1,000 during a year. It was the barley beef boom and it didn’t take long to fatten them.
“The butchers had wanted it that way because they no longer wanted to buy big fat Irish cattle. What tempted me about the Charolais breed was when I saw how well the Charolais X weighed out of the Friesian cows.
“I’d started with 11 Charolais heifers in 1971 and it was Jane, who came from a farming family, the Hellier family, that knew about breeding pedigree cattle, who suggested I should go around picking the best bulls and buy their semen. It was her confidence in my ability that increased my own confidence and I bought semen from Bent Carabinier, which turned out to be the best performing bull in the country giving excellent style and shape to his progeny.”
Greater success was to follow with the purchase of semen from Tattenhall Impeccable and others. This led to show ring and breeding sale ring esteem that more often than not in the coming decades brought a series of great wins, trophies and a breathtaking price of 28,000 guineas for Nacadar in 1998.
Cattle breeding, rather like sheep breeding, as many farmers know, can be governed a little by fashion and there are always breeds making their way up the various league tables. While Billy, Sarah and Michael are all positive people they also understand the harsh realities of business and why it is vital to keep moving forward.
“We sell to pedigree and commercial herds and it is the fast growth, putting on the flesh quickly, that is still important,” says Billy. “We go to the breed sales at Welshpool, Carlisle and Stirling all twice a year as well as selling at home privately.”
But the farming operation isn’t all about the Brampton herd.
“We’re on around 800 acres,” says Billy. “We have 250 acres of arable land that we used to work ourselves but is now let on a stubble-to-stubble contract; and we have a flock of 700 Suffolk X Mule breeding ewes that we put to the Texel tup for butchers’ lambs.”
Lately, Sarah has renewed her own passion for horse breeding and has a handful of thoroughbred mares.
“Mum used to breed them,” she says. “Dad currently has one in training and one of our proudest moments was when Sollen Gold won the Gymcrack at York.”