Feature on Michael and Sarah Potter of Faringdon, Oxfordshire

Michael Potter lives, breathes and dreams about Limousins. And the dream of establishing himself as a recognised breeder is now starting to come true.

Having made the change in 1999 from commercial store cattle to establishing the Hannem Herd at Blackacres Farm, Goosey, Faringdon, Oxfordshire, Michael, his wife Sarah and children Hannah, Emily, Lucy, Thomas and Jack, began growing the herd which now totals 140 cows plus followers.

“The Limousin stores always worked well for us, growing well and producing great carcasses, so it seemed a natural step to move into pedigrees.” But Michael and Sarah are adamant the herd is run on a commercial basis, as it still fits in with an incredibly busy contracting business responsible for 5,000 acres of arable and grass and maize silaging, as well as looking after seven-month old Jack.

The foundations of the herd have been built on the purchase of cows from various breeders, none of which have cost any more than 1,700gns. “We’re not in a position to spend big money, so have had to buy when we can and take advantage of commercially run females at a reasonable price.

“After all, it’s not the price tag that matters, we want cows with good temperaments, an ease of calving and good milking ability. We don’t necessarily want them to carry flesh, although most of our cows do. What is important is the right choice of bull you put on them.”

And in terms of bull choice, one of the biggest success stories for the couple occurred right at the start with the purchase of Barnhill Max at just £800. A Golfeur son out of Barnhill Hilda, bred by Seamus Gallagher and sourced by known cattleman Gerlad Shearing, he was one buy that certainly paid off.

“He’s a bull that has just clicked with nearly every female in the herd and goes back to some successful, but old fashioned breeding,” says Michael. Having taken semen off him, the Potters are now thinking about using him on some of the well-grown two year old heifers including a favourite two year old heifer of Sarah’s that is due a couple of late summer show season outings.

Coupled with Max, the other bull that has left some great females in the herd is Grange Treviso, a bull by Perit B and out of Grange Porcelain. “Treviso is a powerful bull and still looks great at eight years old; he’s certainly left his own stamp on the calves.”

Bull choice has been vital for the Potter family, and it is something Michael appears to have down to a fine art. One of the other great successes for them has been the Ocean son Lynderg Aristocrat, bought privately from Jim Quail, Northern Ireland. Aptly named Murphy due to his Irish roots, this bull is out of Jim’s famous cow Java and brings with him easy calving and natural fleshing ability.

“We’d gone out looking for a bull in Ireland and were incredibly impressed with the Ocean sons.”

But the bull that is breeding Michael his most recent high figured Carlisle sales has been Bailea Vantage. “One of Matthew Jones’ cheaper bulls in Carlisle, we only paid 3,000gns for him in Carlisle in February 2006, but have kept 20 heifers back from him this year to breed from.” Some 26 heifers of mixed sire breeding have also been exported to Poland last year.

Vantage was also sire of Hannem Bean who went on to take the Junior Championship and stand Reserve Overall at the Carlisle Limousin sale in May this year with Jonathan Bellas at the lead.

“Carlisle was a great experience for us, with many established breeders commenting on how correct Bean was,” says Michael. As a rising 17 month old he sported a 400-day weight of 687kg and a Beef Value of LM+29. He later sold for 8,200gns to commercial producers DB and ID Owen in Holyhead, Anglesey.

“We’re also looking for bulls that produce great finished animals, as only a few of the best bull calves are retained for breed sales.” Most of the finished bulls are sold liveweight through Cirencester market with the most recent lot topping 196.5p/kg at 14-15 months old.

Commenting on beef price, Sarah says the price paid for finished stock is up by about £250 a head on last year’s trade. “And with a strong price for cull cows now evident, there is a renewed confidence in the industry, providing we keep input costs to a minimum. The later being the biggest reason for running the herd at a commercial level, adds Michael.

“Limousin bulls are killing out well for us, so we’re now thinking about selling deadweight through Mutch Meats.”

In terms of cost, finishing cattle are given a home grown barley mix, while the pedigree bulls are fed on a pedigree show mix through Manor Farm Feeds, which is currently costing £268/t.

Cattle are housed from November as the ground tends to poach easily and calves are creep fed from four months of age. “It’s the first year’s growth that counts, so creep is a necessity,” reckons Michael.

Cattle are fed a total mixed ration through a Keenan feeder wagon as well as concentrate to add flesh. “We’re great believers in feeding maize through the commercial finishing period – it keeps cost down and is a great flesh producer.”

When selecting new stock bulls, Michael buys mostly on eye but does take figures in to account too as the herd is Signet recorded as well and he values the importance of figures at sales. “You really have to do something to set your stall out at Carlisle, with so many good quality high figured bulls coming forward from the likes of Haltcliffe and Goldies.

“If it works for me in terms of length, correctness, locomotion and temperament then the next thing I look at is 400 and 600 day growth rates coupled with muscle figures for the bull makers and 200 day rates and calving ease on the maternal side.”

And as a result of Society sales now cataloguing breeders’ health status, the Potters are now working to becoming health status accredited through the SAC Premium Cattle Health Scheme. “You have to give yourself the biggest edge at the sales, so figures and health status are vital as we grown and compete on a larger scene,” Sarah reckons.

Cows are run in groups of 25 or 26 with one bull, so the Potters have six bulls working at the moment. Included in that team is Sarkley Cosmos, bred by the Pennie Family. By Nenuphar and out of Sarkley Vine, he was bought in Carlisle for 5,100gns.

Another acquisition is Exmoor Annodomini, a bull bred by WH White, Devon. “He is a Grahams Samson son out of a Hafodlas dam and is leaving great female calves on the ground.” The plan now is to push cow numbers up to 200. “We’re fortunate to have some help from a local stockman, Stuart Young, through calving, but in terms of preparation for shows and sales we tend to do it ourselves; it’s far more pleasurable that way.”

Having tasted success in the show ring at Bath and West show with a homebred commercial animal, Sarah would like to do more showing to market themselves before sales. “We don’t necessarily want to sell females, but it helps to show and get your name about.” So the plan is to continue buying the best bulls available to enhance the quality of the herd.

“The contracting business means we struggle to attend many summer shows, but a few local ones in the latter end of the season are achievable.

“We also have some good bulls coming through so will no doubt be back in Carlisle hoping to beat our 8,200gns record,” adds Michael.