ILC Visit – The GREENWELL HERD
The Nattress family of Lanchester, Co. Durham, have totally entrusted their future livelihood to their pedigree “Greenwell” herd of Limousins.
|John and Ian Nattress|
The 50 plus herd of breeding females plus followers, is the sole enterprise on the 230 acre Greenwell Farm, run by John and Jean Nattress and their son Ian.
The farmland revolves around the Limousins – it is used for grazing, the growing of winter forage and approximately 30 acres of barley. The grain is sold and the straw used for bedding.
The pedigree Limousins used to share the farm with a dairy herd, but the Nattresses finally hung up the clusters in 1995, when the milk price was 26p per litre.
The milking byre, where the dairy cows were individually tied, remains. These days pedigree Limousin heifers are tied in the byre, yielding the long term reward of total strangers being able to walk amongst the placid Greenwell cattle, putting a hand on virtually any animal which takes their fancy.
The herd was founded in 1979 after the Nattresses had inseminated some of their dairy herd for several years with semen from some of the very first “F” bulls to be imported into Britain in 1970.
“ We were delighted with the results”, explained John Nattress. “The quality of those Limousin cross calves made it obvious that this “new” breed had a tremendous future in Britain and had we not been delayed by open-cast mining on the farm, we would have bought some pedigrees after the first calf crop in 1971”.
The foundation Greenwell Limousins were bought privately in Northumberland -two in-calf heifers, Nesbit Nancy and Limestone Nanette, both by Fidele and an in-calf imported cow – Inconstante 2, with her Fanfaron-sired bull calf, Coruisk Pierre, at foot.
The cow and bull calf had cost £3,000. When the bull was sold at Carlisle the following year, he made 2,500 gns., further convincing an already convinced trio of Nattresses that the future was bright – THE FUTURE WAS LIMOUSIN!
Now, over two decades later, of the 95 Greenwell females (including calves), registered at the end of September 2003, all are home-bred except for two French – bred animals. Having held a Production sale in autumn 2002, this is a young herd, with only two cows aged over ten.
Other than the couple of “irresistible” French females, the Greenwell herd comprises of just five cow families. Two families trace back to foundation females – Limestone Nanette (“Nanette” family) and Inconstante 2 (“Velvet”). The other three families all carry Bedell Maurice blood – “Severn”, “Annabelle” and “Chevorn”.
Until 1988 the Nattresses relied on A.I. for service sires. After ten years of breeding, Ian had developed the confidence to buy a bull and imported Daim, followed by two more French bulls – Genial and Igolo.
At Carlisle, October 1997, six Igolo sons put the Greenwell herd very firmly on the Limousin map. The Igolo “half dozen” clocked up an average of £8,242. Greenwell Major, the Intermediate champion, topped the sale at 15,000 gns, paid by Matt and Craig Ridley of the “Haltcliffe” herd in Cumbria.
A couple more French bulls followed. Then came the opportunity of something special with British breeding.
At Carlisle, October 1997, David Dick of Stirling had sold Ronick Member to Drew and Bob Adam of Newhouse of Glamis, Angus for 10,000 gns. Two years later, after hearing that Member was for sale, Ian bought the bull privately from the Adams.
Ronick Member’s first Greenwell son – Greenwell Ronick, sold at Carlisle, May 2002 for the second top price of 18,000 gns. Ronick, the Intermediate champion, was bought jointly by Johnny Thompson of the Hartsideanew herd in Cumbria and Proctor Farms of Lancashire.
But one bull does not make a summer – it is consistency that counts. The first 30 Greenwell sons of Ronick Member averaged £5,148. Now that’s a summer!
Ronick Member’s offspring in the Greenwell herd also won the Best Progeny award in the North East England herd competition.
Ronick Member’s reward for such prowess? Autumn 2003, he was sold to James and Sarah Cooper of the “ Tomschoice” herd at Harrogate, Yorkshire, with the Nattresses retaining half share in the semen rights.
He was then despatched to the luxurious Cogent semen collection centre at Aldford in Cheshire, for collection for the U.K. and international markets. Before being allowed into Cogent, all bulls have to pass numerous health tests.
The Greenwell herd is not in a health scheme. Instead the Nattresses rely on their own almost closed herd policy, strict isolation and testing of any cattle that do come onto the farm, plus biosecurity common sense. “ Whatever we are doing, we must be doing it right,” explained Ian. “We don’t use vaccines and our total veterinary bill is less than a thousand pounds a year.” The cows are “naturally done” on forage, receiving no concentrates.
Heifers, yearlings and stock destined for sale, receive a purchased complete, coarse ration.
The Nattresses weigh their cattle – “ regular weighing tells us whether or not the cattle are going in the right direction and gives us valuable in-herd comparisons”, explained Ian.
With many of the Greenwell females being daughters of Member, the Nattresses returned to France for bulls, including Perigord, bought in partnership with a Welsh pedigree breeder at the Paris Show. His first calves are due Spring 2004. Some may feature in the second Greenwell Production Sale to be held at Carlisle on September 4th.
When John Nattress and his bride Jean started farming, they had just £ 65.00, which bought a Shorthorn cow. Between then and now, they have developed a 230 acre owned farming enterprise, finally buying the 137 acre home farm of Greenwell in November 2003. The Nattresses early farming finances relied on dairying. Since they gave up in 1995, the milk price has fallen by around 30%.
Meanwhile the Greenwell Limousin herd has consistently achieved some of the breed’s best sale prices. Everything this hard working, enterprising trio has achieved has been through their own endeavours.
John Nattress recognised the potential of the Limousin breed from his first crop of cross-bred calves in 1971. Even he could not have foreseen that within three short decades, pedigree Limousins from his own family’s herd would be topping Society sales and setting breed record averages.