ILC visit – GRAHAMS LIMOUSIN
In the late 1950’s teenager Robert Graham was milk boy for the family producer/retailer milk business, based at Bridge of Allan near Stirling. This eager, early rising youngster had never heard of Limousin cattle.
On February 14th 2003, Robert Graham, by then Chairman of Grahams Dairies, the largest independent dairy company in Scotland, turned white in the Carlisle mart sale ring, as he watched his Limousin bull, Graham’s Samson sell for the world record price of 55,000 gns. The buyer – Dougie Edgar of the Shire herd in Cumbria.
Between then and now, Samson has “holidayed” in the Cogent semen collection centre, where he “gushed like an oil well”. He is now back on the Edgar’s farm, in a field which can be viewed through the kitchen window. All being well, he will strut his stuff at Ingliston on August 4th at the UK National Limousin Show at Beef 2004.
Samson was born at Boquhan, one of three Stirlingshire farms owned by the Graham family, totalling 740 acres. Boquhan, the site of “Scotsheep” in 1997, is a couple of miles west of Stirling – an area of Scotland steeped in the history of battles, including those fought against the English by Robert the Bruce and William Wallace, the inspiration for Mel Gibson’s film – Braveheart.
Although born on Scottish soil, Samson’s parentage is pure French. His dam Lisette was imported in-calf with her second calf in 1999. Samson’s sire – Jersey, had “travelled extensively” before he arrived in Scotland. Born in France in 1994, he was exported to Spain, returned to France and eventually arrived in Scotland in 2000. A serious injury curtailed Jersey’s romancing and sadly his life. However he ensured lasting posthumous honours for himself – the last cow he served was Lisette – the resulting calf was the record making Graham’s Samson. Robert Graham also imported some Jersey daughters. There are four Jersey-sired females in the Graham’s herd, which totals 50 cows.
The stock sires are quite a mixture – a trio of imported French bulls – Rotary, Samovar and Samy. Samy is out of Nova, another daughter of Jersey. There is also a British-bred, purchased bull – Waindale Prime, bought in November 2003 as a four year old for 8,000 gns after Robert had seen his 2003 calves in Willie Barron’s herd at Burnhope, Co. Durham. Prime has been given the honour of serving the daughters of the homebred herd sire – Grahams Poncho. It is only by luck that those Poncho-sired females are there. Poncho is out of Lisette, the dam of the 55,000 gns Samson. In fact Poncho was the calf she was carrying when she was imported. Sired by Ideal, Poncho grew into an impressive young bull, impressive enough to win the Junior championship at Perth Bull Sales in February 2001. Yet he did not sell and Robert withdrew him at 3,500 gns., deciding at that price to take him home and use him.
It seems that he must have looked in his crystal ball and seen the future! For Poncho’s first son – Grahams Tycoon, sold at Carlisle, May 2003 for 16,000 gns to D & L Graham, of the Burnbank herd at Blairdrummond, Stirling. His second son – Graham’s Trooper, sold in Carlisle, October 2003 for 15,000 gns, to commercial breeder , Peter Alexander, Blairgowrie, Perthshire. “Now that we’ve seen just how well and consistently he breeds, we’ve retained a lot of his daughters and have taken out the best insurance possible – we’ve collected semen from him”, said Robert.
On September 4th the Grahams herd is joining the Greenwell herd belonging to the Nattress family of County Durham, to hold a sale in Carlisle. Robert is gnashing his teeth as to which, if any, Poncho daughters he can part with. The Graham’s herd was founded in 1979, with the importation of 20 French heifers. Following the relaxation of importation regulations in the 1990’s, allowing the importation of mature animals, Robert imported almost 40 cows between 1997 and 2002. Over the years he has also imported several French bulls, including in 1981, Sirocco from Roger Lacote. Progeny of Sirocco caught the eyes of American breeders and four of his progeny were exported to North America, including the heifer, Grahams Upsy which won Grand Champion at the Oklahoma State Fair and the American Royal. Sirocco himself was also exported to America, a process which demanded his re-importation into France before heading west across the Atlantic. A sparkling array of trophies, won over more than two decades, is testimony to the long-term success of Graham’s Limousins at major shows throughout the land.
The Limousin herd shares Boquhan Farm with 350 pedigree Jersey cows, one of the largest Jersey herds in the U.K. These dainty, doe eyed, creamy Channel Island milk producers are the bovine flagship of the thriving Grahams Dairies business. The cows are milked in a public view parlour, which is a great favourite with local school children.
Overseeing the management of both pedigree herds is the duty of farm manager – Brian Wills, who hails from Ayrshire. He and Robert had watched and admired Grahams Samson from Day One. “Even as a baby calf, he was a real eye catcher with a great personality”, said Brian. In February 2003, Brian prepared Samson for sale, showed him to win the championship and then led him around the Carlisle sale ring. “When the bidding opened at 20,000 gns, I felt the hairs stand up on the back of my neck”, explained Brian. “I looked across at Robert, standing in front of the auctioneer’s rostrum, and he had turned white!” Somehow this pair of emotional human wrecks managed to stay upright for the transaction. Samson, a beautiful bull who knows he is a beautiful bull, just enjoyed the moment and led Brian gently round, until auctioneer David Thomlinson, who had also suffered “a heart stopping experience”, when the bidding opened at 20,000 gns, brought the hammer down with a flourish befitting a 55,000 gns world record price.
To go from milk boy to Chairman of a U.K. wide, 50 million litre milk supply business, brings many challenges as well as rewards. Robert’s son, also Robert, is now Managing Director of Grahams Dairies, which has expanded rapidly in the last decade. Robert senior maintains that at heart he is still very much a farmer, and while enjoying the “buzz” of the dairy business, his relaxation is to leave the Mobile phone in the office and walk amongst and enjoy his cattle.
“With the Limousins I’ve personally selected the individual cattle, and it’s just wonderful to have the opportunity to see, over time, how particular bloodlines and families are breeding”. ” Both with the milk and the Limousin cattle, our customers are always looking for an improved item – something a little bit better than before, and it’s our job to do the very best we can to supply it!”.