Few farmers have made more of an impact on the Limousin breed in recent years than James McKay, who together with his parents, William and Jean, and wife Lynne, have not only bred numerous five-figure priced cattle from their Ampertaine herd, but also bulls that have gone on to produce the goods for their new owners.

Admittedly, this relatively young herd from Northern Ireland, has come to the fore in a short space of time, with James selling his first bull at Carlisle just 13 years ago. Since then, however, the Ampertaine herd has certainly punched well above its weight, having produced no fewer than 46 five-figure priced bulls.

Just as impressive, if not more so, is that fact that pick up any Limousin catalogue, and a large percentage of the entries will contain Ampertaine genetics in some form or another.

James' initial venture across the Irish Sea not only saw his first bull, Ampertaine Abracadabra, sell for a colossal 29,000gns in 2007, it also set the ball rolling for a phenomenal run of cracking bull and heifer sales.

Add to that the huge numbers of bulls and heifers sold privately every year – from £3000 upwards – and Ampertaine has been on a roll ever since. But it's not all glamour and glory. With 125 cows and also a few cross breds for recips, all of which are AI'd and no full-time assistance, there are few, if any, days away.

"We just want to breed good cattle so we all just eat, sleep and breath Limousins and good, balanced, shapey, Limousins," said James.

"We have always had good commercial shapey cattle in the past, and it was AI'ing them to the Limousin that always produced the best calves, which is why we went down the Limousin route. Limousin cross calves were always the easiest to calve, and made the most money at the end of the day. Father even bought a pedigree female – Ballysorrell Suzanne – as a hobby in 1983.

"Father has always been interested in good, shapey, muscly cattle, but we're not looking to breed red British Blues. We look to breed medium-sized, easy-calving cows with milk and shape and cows that can be run commercially."

The family also strive to produce the type of cattle that will sell well both into commercial beef and dairy units and pedigree Limousin herds and that means easy fleshed, muscley cattle that are easy kept.

"We're very lucky being located where we are, as we have always got someone looking for a bull or a heifer to buy privately, or semen or embryos. But they don't want cattle that are too big. You've got to breed what the market demands and in this area, it's shape and muscle but also cows and calves that are easy calving."

As a result, James pays particular attention to the sires he uses, and looks to buy semen from well muscled bulls from good milky cow families and sires with short gestations of 290days or less. He and his father have never bought a stockbull and have always preferred to AI using semen from the best proven bulls.

In doing so, they are able to match up the individual characteristics with a particular AI sire. Faults are ironed out in an individual cow by selecting a bull which has the strong characteristics lacking in the female.

However such individual breeding, requires a huge amount of time and work as cows have to watched continually for bulling, and brought inside 12 hours later to be AI'd by James, who achieves approximately 70% success rate to the first AI, with the rest followed up at next service.

"AI'ing is a huge amount of work and is not good for your calving pattern, because you are constantly having to watch the cows, but it has saved us having to fork out a lot of money for a bull which might not necessarily click with our females. By AI'ing a few cows to one sire, we can see how that bull performs without putting all our eggs in the one basket."

It might seem a lot of hard work and effort, but it is a policy which is obviously bearing fruit, and one which has enabled the family to see what sires breed best with their females.

While the first pedigree cow was bought in 1983, it wasn't until 2002 – five years after James had left school – that the family looked seriously into pedigree breeding. That year James bought five heifers from Ron Cruikshank's Kype herd from Strathaven and four from Margaret Penny's Shannas herd from Mintlaw in Aberdeenshire.

"I didn't know much about Limousins then, I just knew I wanted some well muscled, easy fleshed, easy calved, medium-sized cows with shape, style and a nice breedie head," he said, adding that they had AI'd their commercial cows to Limousins, Charolais and British Blues in the past and the Limousin always came out tops producing calves that were the easiest to calve, flesh, grow and to sell.

A couple of those foundation females have proved to be little gold mines too, with Kype Sharon and Kype Ultra, both by Cloughhead Lord and the former still going strong, being behind several of the herd's top sellers. Ultra is the grand-dam of 24,000gns Ampertaine Bravo and Ampertaine Gigolo – a bull of which a half share was sold privately for an undisclosed five-figure sum to the Cowporation herd and which also bred the 140,000gns record priced Trueman Jagger.

Meanwhile, Sharon is the grand-dam of the 38,000gns Ampertaine Foreman and the 20,000gns Ampertaine Commander and 70,000 gns Ampertaine Magnum.

Several of those home-bred bulls have come up with the goods for the McKays too, with the legendary Gigolo, being a son of the 20,000gns Ampertaine Commander, who has bred the 45,000 gns Ampertaine Jamboree and the 40,000 gns Ampertaine Opportunity. McKays have also bred 32,000gns Ampertaine Elgin who has sired a rake of five-figure priced bulls to include Ampertaine Inferno, Impact and Interest.

Their first bull sold at Carlisle, Abracadabra, also bred several bulls at 10,000gns and over to include Ampertaine Coolcat, Cannon and Fieldmarshall.

Further back, it has been good muscly bulls that have made their mark on the herd with Cloughhead Lord, Sympa, Wilodge Cerberus and Glenrock Ventura, all producing good males and females.

But while the family endeavour to breed shapey cattle, they're also well aware of the need for ease of calving characteristics and the need for females with plenty of milk.

"I do look at the milk figures of a bull before deciding to use him, but I would be more aware of the female line he has been bred from. I also know that most of my cows carry the F94L easy-calving gene going by the bulls I've sold," said James, who added that he rarely has to phone the vet to calve a cow.

"Limousins are easier calving than other breeds and they can be run commercially which suits our system. I need a good, easy calving, medium sized cow with plenty of milk to produce good calves on a regular basis to make a viable business and a big fancy cow that eats a lot more and is more difficult to calve, does not pay the bills here."

With no time for showing outwith pre-sale bull shows at Carlisle where the herd has won the overall supreme championship on four occasions and numerous section titles, no concentrates are fed to any cows. Instead, the family look to provide quality grass at all times and will regularly reseed fields. They also grow wheat for whole crop and take three cuts of silage every year for a quality winter feed ration when the cows are in wintered on cubicles with mattresses and slats, while the calves have access to a separate straw-bedded creep area.

Having to watch for cows being on heat, James is rarely off the farm. The only time he does get away is to the Bull Sales at Carlisle three times a year, and while he would also like to take cattle to the sales at United Auctions' Stirling event, he feels he just can't afford the time away.

Most years, the business sells 50-60 bulls, with the bulk going privately off farm anywhere from a year old, with the cream kept until they're 16-18 months for society sales at Borderway Mart. Usually about 10 are sold at the May sale with four or five each sold at the February and October sales. Heifers are also sold from home and at Carlisle in May.

Needless to say with next month's sale fast approaching, it's all hands on deck to ensure all are brought out to perfection, but then, with free-lance stockman Barney O'Kane there to lend a hand at Carlisle, there'll be no fear of anything but

FARM facts

Family business: William and Jean, son James and his wife Lynne and young Aston (18months).

Farm size: 250acre.

Herd size: 125 pedigree cows, no stockbulls, all cows AI'd

Sales: 50-60 bulls sold per year of which most sold privately with the top end at Borderway Mart. Similar number of heifers sold privately with cream again sold at Carlisle. Most sold below 18months of age.

ONTHE spot

Best investment? "Head locking yokes in all the cattle sheds."

Biggest achievement? "At the May sale at Carlisle in 2017, we sold 22 cattle and brought home a cheque for more than £200,000."

Where do you want to be in 2030? "I hope to have a happy and healthy family and a good profitable business, which has hopefully grown over the 10 years."

Future of the beef industry? "I think the beef industry has a very bright future as long as we are not undermined by cheap inferior imports."

Biggest gripe? "The wet weather we have in this area."