Farm of the Week: Limousins are the bread and butter for farmer Ian

Ian Nattress pictured with his limousin cattle at High College Farm in Millington.
Ian Nattress pictured with his limousin cattle at High College Farm in Millington.
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WHEN THIS year’s Great Yorkshire Show comes around again in July it’s a fair bet that one beef breed will once again be present in significant numbers and probably heading the league table for entries once again.

The Limousin, first imported from France in 1970, has become one of the most fashionable choices for herdsmen. The breed’s qualities include easy calving at one end of the spectrum and a lean, tender meat quality at the other.

While there are many other continental and native breeds that offer similar benefits, the Limousin has become, what some might term, the industry standard by which others are judged.

In 12 days’ time the largest wholly cattle event in the UK, the annual Beef Expo brings its Festival of British Beef day of seminars, exhibitions, trade stands, cattle societies, new equipment, breeding programmes and competitions to York Auction Centre. It’s open to the public as much as the farming world with the aim to showcase what is happening in the beef sector.

It also provides a perfect opportunity to see just how far the industry has moved on since BSE (mad cow disease); an era that decimated the national herd through a ban on beef being exported from 1996-2006.

The day prior to the main event sees some of those who will be attending Beef Expo visiting three East Riding farms. Millington is the venue for one of the visits where Ian Nattress manages the successful Limousin herd that was started by John Weatherill and is now owned by Bob Bousfield and his family who purchased the 850-acre Millington Grange Estate last year.

Ian moved from County Durham with his wife Hazel to become stock manager four-and-a-half years ago having built up a good reputation for the breed at Greenwell Farm in Lanchester, which he ran with his parents.

“I’ve been involved with Limousin cattle since 1979 when I left school. Initially they were a hobby as we were dairy farmers but in 1996 the Limousins took over. By then they had become a passion and I was selling nine bulls at a time averaging 6,500 guineas at Carlisle. When my parents retired from farming, Hazel saw the advertisement for running this herd.

“It was a totally different experience for me from the small family farms and variation of soil I was used to in Durham. This is big country with free draining chalk land that produces good yields on cereals, peas, potatoes, oilseed rape and lucerne that works very well for our young stock. It took me around six months to get my head around it all, but John and his wife Pauline made us very welcome. I’d met them previously at the Limousin testing station in Lanaud, France in 2007 but had never thought I would be working for them three years later.”

When the coach parties arrive at High College Farm, where the Millington Limousin herd is based, Ian’s knowledge will be evident for all. He lives and breathes the herd and is looking forward to another year of rosettes and hopefully trophies in the show rings, as well as good prices at the sales.

“At present we have 250 head of stock with the pedigree Limousins making up around half of the overall herd. We have 50 pedigree Limousin cows and we’re looking at increasing that further. Rather than having the 20 crossbred cows we have at the moment, we’re looking at moving to being all pedigrees.”

Ian is a specialist in the more traditional approach to breeding.

“I prefer to work with natural service bulls rather than using AI or embryo transfer. I find that I can work very successfully in choosing the correct stock bulls to suit the cows.

“We’re running four bulls at present. Our stock bull Ecran was imported four years ago from France. He has been matched to selected females to improve the female lines in the herd. He has some terrific calves on the ground this year.

“We also use one of our own bulls that has been bred here, Millington Fortunate on the crossbreds. He’s out of Brockhurst Option who was a fantastically successful cow and produced progeny to a top price of 28,000 guineas.

“The other two bulls we’re using are more recent additions. We bought Norman Hawk at Carlisle in February last year and his first calves are on the ground now. We’re impressed by what we see.

“Spittalton Imij is our newest bull and is the first stock bull to have been purchased since Bob took over. Hazel and I had been asked to judge a herd competition in Scotland, which is where we saw the young bull and we were immediately impressed. The traits I’m looking for to take the herd forward are greater shape and muscle.”

Showing has always been key to the Millington Limousins approach and that will be no different this year with Lincolnshire, the Great Yorkshire and Driffield again on Ian’s calendar.

Last year, Millington Highlight was Interbreed Champion at Lincolnshire Show, and both Reserve Female and Overall Reserve Champion Limousin at the Great Yorkshire.

“She’s another cow that originally came out of Brockhurst Option. She’s three-years-old now and will be competing again this year. She has a calf out of Ecran that we’re really pleased with too. It’s fair to say that Millington Highlight is well named because she provided me with the biggest highlight in our showing career.”

The rest of the farming operation across the three farms that make up the estate - High College, Coldskin and The Grange - includes a herd of pedigree Beef Shorthorns, the crossbreds and arable land.

“We may have some cows out in the field for our visitors to look at when they come on their coaches but with the grass growing very slowly at the moment and with the weather being dry there is not enough grass to put the herd out. Fortunately we have excellent facilities for everyone to walk around our sheds and see the quality that we produce.”