Breeder playing host to a national gathering

Breeding pedigree cattle has been in Yorkshire farmers’ blood for centuries. Chris Berry speaks to a farming couple who are enjoying success.
James Cooper in the ring at Nidderdale ShowJames Cooper in the ring at Nidderdale Show
James Cooper in the ring at Nidderdale Show

When all the hairdryers have been packed away and the rosettes have been transferred from the pockets of white coats to be put on display in the kitchen, what comes next for those who have shown cattle and sheep all summer?

There are those who simply breathe a contented sigh of relief, especially if they feel that their livestock has been fairly treated by the judges. That doesn’t mean everyone expects a first place in every class. Most show people are experienced and realistic enough to calculate that a sixth place in a class is sometimes reward enough when viewing the competition and their own current crop.

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There are many who simply turn their attention to the “show and sale” circuit which is largely unseen by members of the public, the breed sales where specific societies host sales of males and females at livestock markets up and down the country and where the real business end of pedigree stock takess place.

Each of these tends to have a show before the sale, so attendance at shows doesn’t stop after the public events have finished.

Limousin breeder and showman James Cooper gets involved with these much the same as many others do, and has had success recently at Newark Livestock Market where one of his beasts, Tomschoice Hurricane, was champion in the pre-sale show and sold well afterwards. But this autumn James has gone one step further than the “show and sale” arena by agreeing to be the host farm for the British Limousin Cattle Society’s Inaugural Social Weekend to be held in Harrogate.

What this means is that the Cooper family, that includes James and his wife Sarah plus their son and daughter Ben and Laura, may have upwards of 500 fellow breeders and their families descending on their 110-acre Hill Top Farm at Dacre.

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“They’re not here all weekend,” says James. “This social event is something new for us and it is certainly not a time when everything is going to be all about cows, bulls, heifers and calves. It’s intended to be exactly what it says, a social weekend and all that brings with it in our beautiful town of Harrogate.

“But we are going to offer those who come the opportunity of a farm walk and we hope to have plenty to interest everyone.”

You can tell the importance of this event to James as he professes to have even bought a new brush and shovel to make sure everything is spick and span when the hordes arrive next Saturday.

“There will be a stockjudging competition during the day and we also have clay pigeon shooting and a demonstration of drystone walling. Dane Swires from the museum in Pateley Bridge is also bringing agricultural artefacts that are bound to be a discussion point amongst those attending. The Limousin Cattle Society has not put on a weekend of this kind before although other breeds have both in the cattle and sheep world. We’re hoping to sell Yorkshire a little bit more to those that we’re expecting from all over the UK and the Saturday evening event is being held at the Majestic Hotel in Harrogate. Theakston Brewery and quite a number of other Yorkshire-based businesses have got behind us with sponsorship.”

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The Cooper family has been at Hill Top Farm since 1988. James and Sarah became Limousin breeders in 1996 having formerly run a herd of crossbred cattle at Dacre.

James is very self-deprecating and honest about their early days with the breed and their prowess in the show ring. “I probably made a lot of mistakes and I still do, but my basic aim has remained unchanged – to breed quality cattle. We didn’t do very well in the show ring at first but we have learned as we have gone along.”

Other cattle breeders who have developed their herds and show technique will no doubt empathise with James, but most Limousin breeders will also know just how much the Coopers have contributed to the breed since they started.

The Tomschoice herd has now reached 40 calving females and James has his sights set on the herd size increasing to around 60-65 cows by 2016.

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“Bulls should breed calves that are born easily and have fast growth rates with good conformation. It is shape that always sells. If we produce Limousin bulls that fellow pedigree breeders want then that’s a bonus.”

The family has achieved much in recent times and their Tomschoice herd was runner-up in the British Limousin Cattle Society’s 40th anniversary national herd competition in 2011, having previously been awarded the North east regional championship. Success has also been attained at both the Great Yorkshire Show and Royal Show. “We didn’t much in the way of winning stock during this year’s summer season, but we finished off well. We took a young bull Tomschoice Hero to Nidderdale Show and he won the breed championship. We’d only gone to give him a run out before the breed sale at Carlisle.”

Not one to let the grass grow under either his feet or that of his cattle James is involved in several Limousin Society committees both regionally and nationally, including being President of the National Young Limousin Breeders Club since 2009.

He’s also very committed to the Yorkshire Agricultural Society and is a member of the YAS council.

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“The society does a fantastic job in promoting and educating young people about farming and food through its special event days for primary school children in June and only last week it held a careers day at the showground for 14-15 year olds. There were 2,000 young people there. That has to be good news for the future and shows the enthusiasm there is amongst the next generation for working on farms and in the rural environment.”

Big day out for breed

The British Limousin Cattle Society Weekend takes place next week October 26-27.

The Farm Walk and Event at Hill Top Farm, Dacre 
takes place on Saturday, October 26 from 11am – 2pm

Any livestock farmer wishing to attend should contact 02476 696500.

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While the British Limousin Cattle Society Social Weekend is organised by the society James says that it is not strictly limited to those who have the breed. “Anything that promotes Yorkshire too has to be a good thing.”