Ridley FamilyA feature on the Haltcliffe herd of Messrs Ridley, Haltcliffe, Hesket New Market, Wigton, Cumbria. One of the foremost pedigree names in the United Kingdom, Haltcliffe will be the venue for the British Limousin Cattle Society’s 2011 National Open Day on Friday 29th July.  The day will be held from 10.00am – 4.00pm and is open to all.  Here we take a look at the remarkable history of this herd, its achievements including a world record, and the Ridley family’s outlook on breeding bulls for the pedigree and commercial market place.  

No one who follows the UK’s pedigree livestock industry will forget the day the Haltcliffe Limousin herd hit the headlines back in 2006 when the bull Haltcliffe Vermount sold for the world record price of 100,000gns.

While such a notable achievement for any herd is guaranteed to place it firmly in the international spotlight, this is a herd with a pedigree that goes back far beyond the dizzy heights of six-figure bids. Haltcliffe Limousins established strong foundations in the earliest days of the breed’s arrival in theUKand enjoyed considerable success during the halcyon times of its explosion on to the British beef scene during the 1980s and 1990s. For the last 32 years the herd has been run by the father and son team of Matt and Craig, with wives Margaret and Sheila along with stockman Kevin Bates. Craig and Sheila have three children – Katie 22, Matthew 19 and Emma 16.

But the dawning of a new millennium dealt a heavy blow to the stock breeders ofCumbria, and the Haltcliffe Limousin herd was one of many victims of the foot and mouth outbreak of 2001. Talk now to Matt and Craig Ridley and it’s clear there was never any doubt about Limousins returning to the pastures at Haltcliffe which lies just outside thevillageofHesket Newmarket– a tight-knit farming community in the livestock heartland of North Cumbria.  The foot and mouth crisis did nothing to change the way the Ridley family pursued its breeding policy – one that’s clearly focussed on supplying top quality bulls to the commercial beef producer.

“Our aims and breeding policy have always been the same – to try and breed long, clean, pedigree Limousin bulls with the good shape that the commercial suckled calf breeder wants and at the same time produce big and feminine heifers with class.

“We’ve never set out purely to breed pedigree stock bulls – they are the icing on the cake. Our aim has always been to breed bulls for the commercial suckled calf producer and we must always be aware of the type of bull he wants.

“They must be bulls that can produce him top quality suckled calves at six to nine months old; calves that can benefit from the natural muscle, shape and growth of the sire. And when they sell those suckled calves in the autumn they need them to show as much quality and potential as possible to the buyer. There has to be something in it for him too,” says Craig.

Maintaining an awareness of what the market needs – in terms of bull buyers – has always been crucial to the herd’s development.

“Buyers now want bulls that are slightly bigger – and they want more power. But they must still retain scale and shape. Commercial bull buyers are also prepared to pay more than they used to. The man paying 3000gns a few years ago is now prepared to give up to 7000gns for the right bull because he can see the value it can leave in its progeny.”

Haltcliffe bulls have sold to geographies all around theUK.  Showing this spread of purchasers, some of the top commercial herds (to name but a few) to use bulls from Haltcliffe are Charlie Ogg, Aberdeenshire (Haltcliffe Nutcracker); Will Corrie, Northern Ireland (Haltcliffe Viper); Stephen Graham, Miller Hill, Cumbria (Haltcliffe Union); and Elgin Jones, Coedmore Hall, Dyfed (Haltcliffe Chico). John Blaxell, Hickling, Norwich has had three Haltcliffe bulls and Messrs Woods of Kinnerton,Shropshirehave had a Haltcliffe bull every year since 2005.

Cow families are the bedrock of all successful herds and none more so than at Haltcliffe. A strict culling programme underpins the Ridley’s determination to maintain and strengthen cow families that consistently produce progeny meeting their precise selection criteria. “We aren’t looking to start new cow families but concentrate on the strengths of the ones we have,” says Craig.

Some of the most notable cow families at Haltcliffe have come through cows that include the imported Renoncule, as well as Romance, Radio and the Cannon-sired Ronick Recole. Cloughhead Rowan (by Heros) and Cloughhead Romany (by Osiris) have both served the herd well. Romany has produced a strong breeding line that has consistently produced good bulls and females.

“Big, feminine cows with plenty of shape, good legs and long, clean necks – these are the qualities we look for in our females. It’s no good having a good looking female that doesn’t produce the goods. And no matter how good she is, she has got to prove herself as a breeding female.”

Success comes in many guises but more often than not it’s pre-empted by opportunity. And it was in 1979 when an opportunity presented itself to Craig, while he was a long way from home inBrighton, that triggered new beginnings for the Ridley family.

“I was at the YFC annual meeting and was about to leave the hotel for home when someone said there was a phone call for me. It was Dad and he’d seen an advert for some Limousin cattle being offered from the Henhamlodge herd at Bishops Stortford near London – there were some home-breds and imports, eight cows and four calves,” recalls Craig.

He admits that it was his father who’d been giving more thought to buying some of these “new” cattle from France to run alongside six pedigree Charolais and the family’s 90 cross-bred suckler cows, which was the cattle enterprise at that time.

Craig called to see the cattle on the way home and bought them. They arrived at Haltcliffe onMay 8th 1979. One of the cows proved a valuable foundation for the Haltcliffe Limousin herd. “Hampton Margaret was a Frisson daughter and full sister to the Royal Show winning cow Hampton Nadine. She produced Haltcliffe Rembrandt – who was the first British- bred Limous into win the supreme beef championship at the Royal Highland Show – and Haltcliffe Aristocrat who stood junior champion at the Royal Show in 1987 before being sold to South Africa,” says Matt.

As the herd was becoming established the Ridleys paid regular trips to France visiting almost every year from 1979 to 1985 buying females. So when the family decided to re-stock after foot and mouth it was to some of the herds that had supplied them with females almost 20 years before that they turned to in their search for new bloodlines.

“We certainly weren’t among the earliest breeders to be in France looking for cattle to re-stock, but within two trips we’d found the cattle we needed. Looking for big, feminine females, we imported 20 heifers and a bull – as well as buying a few others from UK herds,” recalls Matt.  But what this successful father and son team didn’t realise at the time of their re-stocking forays to France was that they were about to acquire a very special bull calf. One that would simply mature into one of the breed’s most influential sires of the present day. The bull, Sympa, is now a legend – and the story of how he came to Haltcliffe has been well told many times. He was spotted as a bull calf suckling his dam, and as many will know, it was the cow that Craig really wanted to buy. “We first saw Sympa as a calf suckling his dam on the second trip toFrancewhen we went to the National Show. The cow was without any doubt the bestLimousinfemale we’d ever seen.

Sympa-2006“She was just a heifer with first calf at foot, but she had so much power and quality, she had stood first out of a class of 80 heifers at the show the previous year . We tried to buy her but it was clear she wasn’t for sale. Finally the owner, M Souter, agreed to sell us the calf,” says Matt. Sympa, by the Haricot son Octopus and out of the Genial daughter Operette, arrived at Haltcliffe in January 2002 and was first used at just over a year old in March that year. Although the Ridleys admit they were still looking for another bull in the UK, while Sympa was growing and being used at home he just continued to improve and nothing was found in the UK that they considered could match him.

The first 16 Sympa sons sold in Carlisle averaged £9450. At the 2004 May bull sale the Ridleys achieved the top price of 43,000gns with the Sympa son Haltcliffe Ullswater – out of the renowned Ludo-sired cow Renoncule – while, another by him Haltcliffe Underwriter made 10,000gns. Haltcliffe Umpire, again out of Renoncule and by Haltcliffe Novel, made 18,000gns. In October 2004 another Sympa son – Haltcliffe Ulex – made 9500gns and also among his first calves was Haltcliffe Upperity who was Junior Champion and Reserve Overall Female Champion at the 2004 ILC Show 2004 at only 18 months old.

Sympa was also the sire of the two highest priced bulls sold in the November 2007 Carlisle sale at 30,000gns and 24,000gns. It was quickly becoming clear that Matt and Craig had something very special on their hands.

“And while Sympa sons have been hitting the headlines, his females are probably better than his sons. At this year’s May sale at Carlisle the Senior, Intermediate and Junior Champions were all out of Sympa cows,” says Craig. Sympa semen is available worldwide and has already been sold to Australia, Eire, New Zealand, Germany, Finland and Greece.

Also on the lorry that came from KBS in France was Renoncule, bought as an 18-month-old maiden heifer from the top herd of well known showman M Laleu. She had already passed on her shape and style through her sons Haltcliffe Umpire and Haltcliffe Ullswater – and then came Haltcliffe Vermount. He was sired by Penyrheol Sam who is a son of the famous Ronick Hawk who in turn is a son of the legendary Broadmeadows Cannon. Penyrheol Sam was bought at Carlisle in May 2003 for 13,000gns. Vermount was the only bull calf in the flush from Renoncule. He has seven ET-bred full sisters all of which are in the Haltcliffe herd. He was used a little before he was sold and semen was collected. At the February bull sale at Carlisle in 2006 he weighed 950 kilos on the day before the show and went on to win his class and stand Intermediate champion and eventually take the Supreme Championship title.

The following day history was made. Recalls Craig; ”Bidding started at 10,000gns and soon reached 22,000gns but then after a short pause two more buyers came into the bidding and the bull was soon at 85,000gns. Two more bids saw him reach a new world record price of 100,000gns as auctioneer David Thomlinson knocked him down to Gary Swindlehurst, farm manager for Procters Farms, near Clitheroe in Lancashire.”

Among the first bull Limousin calves to be born at Haltcliffe in 1979 was Haltcliffe Pirate who was the first UK-bred Limousin bull to be bought by Genus. He made 3800gns at the Haltcliffe herd’s first breed society sale inCarlisle. ”I can remember there was only about 36 bulls in the sale, we had our first three Limousin bulls, there was a real buzz about things from the start and things have never looked back,” says Craig. The herd’s first stock bull was the French import Poet – sire of Rembrandt – but it was the 8000gns investment in the 14-month-old Broadmeadows Cannon in 1988 – after he won his class at Carlisle– that proved to be a landmark purchase. As one of the breed’s most prolific sires, Cannon had a massive influence at Haltcliffe and across the entire breed – both in the UK and abroad.

“We saw his dam Broadmeadows Ainsi the year before when she was shown in-calf at the Royal Highland Show. We were really impressed with her and the fact that Cannon’s sire, Broadmeadows VIP, was out of Hampton Nadine and by the great Favori.

“Cannon left a lot of class and style in his females as well as his sons. Like Sympa, he just seemed to improve every herd that used him. And as many will know there were some great cattle produced by putting Cannon daughters to bulls with Cannon breeding behind them,” says Matt. But having had two such successful sires in the herd – Cannon and Sympa – Matt and Craig agree that influential sires do present breeders with challenges as well as producing superior progeny.

“Bulls that make such an intense impact on a breed then present a challenge of following on with the next generation to maintain the improvement. But we believe strong female lines are the key. Sympa was bought on the quality of his dam – we never saw his sire,” says Craig.  The bull that has “clicked” with Sympa daughters at Haltcliffe is Cloughhead Umpire who was champion at the 2005 February sale at Carlisle where he was bought for 42,000gns. His sons have included Haltcliffe DJ, champion at the 2010 February sale and sold for 72,000gns, and Haltcliffe Dynasty who was the top priced female sold to date from the herd at 28,000gns.

Haltcliffe DJ is out of the French bred female Radio. Radio, who is the basis of one of the herd’s most influential cow families, is a Nenuphar daughter and was purchased as a heifer from the noted herd of Camus Huberson whilst the Ridleys were re-stocking the herd in 2001.   The sale of Haltcliffe DJ at 72,000gns gives the herd the remarkable statistic of having bred and sold the two highest prices ever paid at auction, worldwide, for pedigree Limousin bulls!

The herd’s latest purchase is the 32,000gns Ampertaine Elgin (Beef Value of LM+26) who was seen last year during a trip to Northern  Ireland when Craig was judging the herd competition and was bought at this year’s Carlisle May sale where he stood reserve senior champion. Ampertaine Elgin was bred by James McKay, Maghera, Co Derry and is by the 24,000gns Glenrock Ventura and out of a daughter of the prolific show and sale bull Samy. He goes back to a very good Oakley Tavy daughter.

Prior to 2001 the Haltcliffe herd established itself as one of the UK’s most consistent producers of quality sires offered at the breed society’s sales at Carlisle and enjoyed a steady demand for stock both at home and abroad. There were several significant investments made in new herd sires prior to the foot and mouth crisis. These included 15,000gns paid for the Igolo son Greenwell Major at Carlisle in Oct 1997. His first batch of 10 sons sold at the February and May sales at Carlisle in 2000 to average £4000. The highest price paid was 6500gns for Haltcliffe Ottawa who was reserve champion at the May sale. At the October 2000 sales, sons of Greenwell Major had the top prices at both Carlisle and Perth with Haltcliffe Picasso and President realising 8000gns and 10,000gns respectively.

Ridley BumsAmong the herd’s other best prices during this time was 9000gns for Haltcliffe Novel, a son of Newhouse Lordship, who was sold at Carlisle’s 1998 October sale. As well as theLimousinherd the Ridleys run Charolais cattle and flocks ofTexeland Swaledale sheep. There are currently 100 Limousin breeding cows. The Texel flock numbers 80 ewes along with another 25 cross-bred ewes used for ET work and about 300 Swaledale ewes.

The Ridley family feel it is a great honour to be asked to host the British Limousin Society’s National Open Day in this the breed and Society’s 40th anniversary year in the United Kingdom.  It is their hope that fellow breeders, commercial producers, domestic and international visitors and guests will enjoy their visit to Haltcliffe farm in Cumbria.