Nelson Alexander and his son James farm around 800 acres at Randalstown on the outskirts of Belfast in Northern Ireland. This family farm is home to 400+ suckler cows and followers, which are heavily influenced by the Limousin breed.

Swarland Eddie in his working clothes at James Alexanders
Swarland Eddie in his working clothes at James Alexander’s

The farm is spread out over approximately 20 miles, which means that there are considerable time constraints on labour all year round. James explains:

“Most of our sheds are at the home farm, but with grazing and an amount of housing several miles away, we are constantly checking livestock. We are very fortunate to have a dedicated team to work alongside, and we find that having allocated tasks works well as a rule. This allows concentration of the job in hand whether that be vaccinating, feeding, cleaning out and so on.”

All of the lands are in permanent pasture to accommodate grazing and silage requirements, and – like many years – 2012 has been a difficult one to manage in these respects. The majority of the herd is currently spring calving, with the rest of the herd calving throughout the rest of the year, but the plan is to modify this to calve more in the autumn in order to spread demands on management and allow bulls to rest in between seasons. The spring calvers are put straight out to pasture weather permitting with creep introduced from June onwards.

The easy-fleshing attributes that Limousins offer are widely recognised within the Jalex commercial enterprise, with the breed dominating the make-up of the herd. British Blue and Simmental bulls are also used for an outcross as females and are selected for breeding replacements. When choosing new stock bulls James will make a short list depending on what the breeding aim is, and will closely follow the bloodlines primarily.

“Whether I’m selecting a new stock bull or purchasing a female for the nucleus herd of Jalex pedigree Limousins, I like the animal to have power, style and be really good over its plates. We remain focused on what the end game is – producing quality cattle for the commercial market. (Terry, use this as a key quote). Consistency is also key and I will pay particular attention to bloodlines that are regularly producing the type of animal that I aim for.”

One of their most recent purchases has been Swarland Eddie bred by the Proctor family at Morpeth, Northumberland.  This bull sired by Hartsideanew Boumsong was spotted on a trip to the British Limousin Cattle Society Bull Sale held at Carlisle in February 2011. A 10,000 guineas investment leaves him one of the most expensive bulls bought to date for the herd but James has high hopes for him within the herd.

Calf at foot is the first progeny of Swarland Eddie
Calf at foot is the first progeny of Swarland Eddie

“Eddie was bought because I considered him to be one of the best-ended bulls I had ever had the chance of buying. He has fantastic square plates and is easy fleshed, and very mobile. He has held his shape even after serving cows constantly since we got him home. His first calves hit the ground recently and we are really impressed with how they are shaping up. As you would expect with Limousin, they are easily calved and quick to get up on their feet. These are key components as with the volume of stock we manage there is no time for passengers.”

Animal health is also pivotal both in terms of within the herd and when selecting new stock. The Limousin Society took steps early on to promote herd health status and clearly demonstrate this in sales catalogues, and this has proved popular with buyers.

“It is beneficial to be aware of what health status and vaccination programme bulls for example have been managed in. We routinely vaccinate for BVD, salmonella, Rotavec Corona and bolus all cows and heifers prior to calving. It is reassuring to know that new purchases should not potentially compromise the health within the herd.

Each year James selects the top end of his heifers for bulling, and offers around 100 in-calf heifers for sale in the springtime. These are predominantly Limousin x Blue bred carrying to Simmental, Limousin or Aberdeen Angus bulls. The sale attracts repeat buyers year-on-year as the cattle perform well and carry no dairy bloodlines. The remainder of the heifers are sold as stores at Ballymena Mart where they often top the market. Positive feedback from buyers highlights that Jalex-bred commercials kill out as E and U grades on a regular basis.

The male calves are usually kept entire and in recent years have benefited from strong export demand. With the strength of sterling this year, all males were castrated and sold at market as steers, where they changed hands at solid returns. With renewed export demand the plan for 2013 is to keep all males entire.

There are a number of both steers and heifers selected each year for showing, with regular buyers also keen for these direct ex farm. James gets great enjoyment from showing his commercial cattle but has his feet firmly on the ground when it comes to this past time.

“Showing is a fantastic shop window for our cattle but it is only a small part of what we do. Our team – known commonly as “Jalex Commercials” – has enjoyed tremendous success since we first ventured out onto the show circuit in 2006, but to be honest we get every bit as much pleasure seeing our customers succeed with cattle that we have bred.”

Jalex-bred stock have come to the fore at various mainland events including the Scottish Winter Fair (Male Champion), Smithfield (Reserve Male Champion) and more recently at the Borderway Agri Expo show at Carlisle where his Limousin-sired steer The Outlaw was awarded Reserve Male Champion.

Closer to home this season has seen Jalex win a record number of championships at local shows, having secured the Supreme Championship at the Northern Ireland Commercial Cattle Exhibitors Club (NICCEC) Summer Spectacular.

Nelson and James also run the highly successful “Alexander Tractors” enterprise, which was established over three decades ago. From humble beginnings this business has grown into one of the largest of its kind in the province, with anywhere up to 120 tractors and handlers in stock at any given time.

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