Young Hadrian’s Wall Farmer Prepares for NBA Beef Expo
23rd May 2022
On Friday 28th May, eighteen-year-old, Rachael Graham, who farms at home alongside parents, Stephen and Tracey, and younger sister Amy (16) at Miller Hill Farm, situated on Hadrian’s Wall, will be showing her livestock at NBA Beef Expo at Darlington Famers Auction Mart.
For Rachael, showing is a passion, and NBA Beef Expo is an event she has been looking forward to ticking off the list. “It’s fantastic that, after cancelling the last two years due to Covid, the event is back on the calendar this year,” concludes Rachael. “The quality of stock will be phenomenal I’m sure and I’m just going to go and enjoy the experience. I’m glad to finally be able to take part in such an integral show!”
Rising to 800ft above sea level, the family farm, a total of 550 acres, which includes 150 acres of rented lowland grazing at Lanercost. All land is grassland which is utilised by the farm’s 120 suckler cows and 800 commercial breeding ewes with the Graham family focusing on ease of management and livestock quality.
Alongside the day-to-day management of the beef enterprise, Stephen and Rachael also have a keen interest in showing. “Dad has always showed cattle from a young age,” says Rachael. “I enjoyed the showing side of things and started in 2018. We started by taking a calf to Borderway Agri Expo years ago but had no idea how it would go. Ever since I’ve been fixed.”
Previously, the farm was running British Blue cross Limousin cows, however, nowadays the herd has moved away from the muscly Blues in favour of a three-quarter Limousin cross which are then put to a black Limousin bull. All beef breeders can empathise with the difficulties facing the industry, and margins are unquestionably tight. The aim is to sell as many calves as possible and making this change has increased the number of calves being sold.
“We are looking to produce cows that produce plenty of milk and rear their calf easily. Moving away from the muscly continental cows we have seen a reduction in the number of cows needing assistance during calving and we get more live calves on the ground. Our priority is now to breed calves for size and shape, but without the extreme muscle,” explains Rachael, who now works full time at home, as an integral part of the team.
Breeding cows for size and shape has become a priority for the Grahams and those that are heading towards pure breeding are a rib shorter and two inches smaller. Registered black Limousin bulls are known to produce calves with more shape but that are easy calving.
“Finding the right bull wasn’t easy,” says Rachael. “The last herd sire cost Dad £13,000 but it’s important for us to get the breeding right.”
“Around 20 replacement heifers enter the herd each year. Half tend to be home-bred and the other half bought in. We buy Limousin x heifers at 12 to 15 months old, and they go through a strict testing regime before the enter the herd,” explains Rachael.
“They are all pelvic scored and blood tested for Johnes disease. We also only breed from heifers that have a good temperament as ease of management is essential. We usually select a batch based on initial checks and then repeat these later. Anything unsuitable is then moved to the finishing sheds.”
Heifers are calved at 24-30 months to prevent them becoming too big, and also to optimise production. Rachael adds: “We aim for cows at 600-700kg (rather than 800kg- a tonne) as they tend to produce smaller calves. We also find they have more longevity.”
During the winter months – usually from late October through to spring – the herd is brought inside, and housing is something that has been closely examined in order to improve herd health and reduce vet bills. This has included the opening up of sides on existing buildings to improve ventilation and air flow, as well as rubber mats fitted throughout the lying area which are now bedded with sawdust to help combat foot problems.
When housed, cows are fed silage, minerals, and straw which is distributed by a feeder wagon. Rations are calculated using the silage analysis to help cows maintain optimum condition at calving. Calves are fed a three to one mix of calf rearing pellets and sugar beet pulp until moving onto finishing rations.
“The aim is to finish as many cattle as possible, however if housing is tight, we do sell some as stores to make room,” says Rachael. “We try to sell five or six finished cattle per week and the sheds are usually clear of cattle by mid to late June. We then pressure wash and disinfect to prevent any disease spread.”
Finished cattle weigh (live) on average 600-700kg for bullocks and 530-600kg for heifers at 16-20 months old. Cattle are sold either live through Borderway Mart at Carlisle, or direct dead weight to Woodhead or ABP.
The Grahams buy in show calves from the suckler calf sales in the spring and Rachael has enjoyed much success in the show ring. She owes a lot of this success to good friends Jennifer Hyslop and June Dowie who have taken Rachael under their wing.
“Jennifer and June bought a heifer from me to carry on showing. They very kindly said that I could help them, and they have taught me almost everything I know about showing. Unfortunately, Dad doesn’t have the time to come everywhere with me, but Jennifer and June have really supported and helped me.”
Rachael mainly shows in the north of England and her highlights include winning overall young handler at the Highland Show, Countryside Live, Borderway Agri Expo, and also taking the Cumbria Beef Young Handler of the Year final at Hesket Newmarket Agricultural Show.
This year Rachael will show at NBA Beef Expo for the very first time. “Usually, Beef Expo falls during exam time, but now I’m finished school and college I’m excited to be able to attend,” says Rachael. “I will be taking two bullocks, both bought in. One was purchased at the suckler calf show at Carlisle in March, and the other from the suckler calf sale at Hexham. They were both bought for sensible money and our biggest aim for the show cattle we buy in is to sell them as fat at Christmas fatstock shows.”
Tickets for Beef Expo and the Farm Tours can be purchased online in advance at https://bit.ly/BeefExpoTickets.