Supporting the new Charolais female White Gold Sale and organising the Charolais World Congress for this summer, it has been a busy time of year for Chris Curry of Low Burradon, Thropton.

Now running 40 pedigree Charolais cows alongside working full time as a Funeral Director, looking after bereaved families around Northumberland, there is never much stopping Chris, who is in farming partnership with his wife, Helen.

“Charolais has always been the only choice for me. We tried other breeds of bulls in the past, but nothing came close to the Charolais in terms of growth, fleshing and producing pens of level, colour-matched calves.

“The real beauty of the modern Charolais is that it’s so adaptable and can suit just about any system. We’re now producing softer fleshing cattle that can be finished at the required weights quicker than any other breed but still have the capability to grow on to bigger weights, if need be,” said Chris, who bought his first Charolais heifer, Northfield Bridgette, for 1500gns at The Christmas Cracker sale at Carlisle in 1987. She was in calf, with her first calf being a heifer so Chris managed to build up his herd from there. Everything now goes back to her, or another cow called Friarton Ample which was bought at the Baggrave dispersal.

The herd are housed on straw in the winter, with the cows being fed silage, straw and minerals and the young stock are fed a silage-based diet supplemented by a home mixed ration containing maximon barley, oats, sugar beet pulp, distillers dark grains and a mineralised protein balancer.

The majority of the herd calve in the late Spring with a few in the Autumn.

“I remember as a youth, a lot of farms around here were using Charolais bulls over small, traditional Blue Grey cows, calving in the Autumn and by the following summer the calves were almost as big as their mothers and lifting them off the ground as they suckled. We very rarely had to calve one either. The Charolais bull got a bad name for calving over the years, but we must remember the cow is a huge factor in this discussion.

“Bull buyers have so much information available and can choose a bull to match their cows in terms of performance data and myostatin status. The massive strides we’ve made in terms of calving ease, is the reason people are coming back to Charolais bulls again and why I’m confident about the future of the breed whilst at the same time realising that we’re all selling into a diminishing market – sadly, we’re seeing a reduction in the number of cows in the country every year and this is likely to continue,” said Chris.

For this reason, young stock are selected strictly on quality by 12 months of age, the best eight to ten heifers will be retained in the herd for breeding with only the best young bulls being taken forward for the bull sales. The herd is in the Cattle Premium Health Scheme, BVD free and Johnnes Level 1. All the cows are vaccinated annually against BVD and Lepto.

In the early days of the herd Chris relied heavily on AI, trying to choose bulls to suit particular cows with mixed success. The first stock bull purchased was Blelack Prince at Perth in October 2000, which made a quick stamp on the herd, with his first bull calf, Burradon Talisman, standing overall champion at Carlisle in May 2003, before selling to the Campbell family at Thrunton for 15,000gns.

“However, pedigree breeding is a roller coaster of emotions and on the Sunday, morning following that sale, the calf that I always thought was an even better one, called Talon, broke his leg and had to be put down! Unfortunately, we lost Prince after only one crop of calves and due to foot and mouth restrictions we never had a chance to take semen from him,” said Chris, it was not a good time for farming.

The next bull to breed successfully for the herd was Gwenog Banjo, he had eight sons that went into pedigree herds at five figure prices, but the icing on the cake was Stirling in February 2013 when three sons averaged 20,000gns. Another that must be mentioned is Puntabrava Federico, which has also left some strong females in the herd.

The current stock bull is the Irish bred Clenagh Lyle, which was bought at the Christmas Cracker sale for 13,000 euros in December 2016 where he was junior champion.

Lyle has already bred sons to 10,000gns and a heifer bought privately by Richard Hassell and Rachael Wyllie at Brailes Livestock. This heifer went on to win senior champion and reserve inter-breed at Stars of the Future and the inter-breed title at the newly establish LiveScot pedigree calf show.

“Lyle is producing exactly the kind of cattle that the current market requires – fast growing, easy fleshed, great tops and ends but also with lovely heads, real style and plenty of hair which I really like.

“I’ve recently been back to Ireland and bought another young bull, Garra Rockey, in partnership with Jonathan Watson, Tweeddale. I placed him junior champion in the pre-sale show, he’s the nearest thing to Lyle that I’ve seen so hopefully he will breed as well – time will tell,” he added.

The ‘White Gold’ sale is a new venture, a dedicated select Charolais female sale, to be staged on Friday January 21 at Carlisle Auction Market. This will be the first only Charolais female Sale since the Christmas Cracker Sale which was in its heyday back in the 1980s/90s.

“There is no doubt that there is a demand for top quality Charolais females as witnessed at the production sale of heifers from Iain Millar’s Lochend herd at Stirling in October, where maiden heifers sold consistently well up to 12,000gns,” said Chris.

“I really hope this will become a prestigious annual event where vendors feel confident to offer some of their best females and where both established and new breeders know they can access some of the best genetics around,” urged Chris, stressing that there are three things the society must avoid to keep the sale being a real success.

“Firstly, comes quality. In all sectors of livestock now, buyers are selective. Across the board, people are prepared to pay good money for the right article while others often don’t get a bid. Following on from this quality does not mean unrealistic prices all the time, putting unrealistic reserves on animals does not help sales. Not every animal is going to make the front pages of the national newspapers, and nothing discourages buyers more than animals being unsold at seemingly good prices.

“Finally overfeeding. Too many heifers, of all breeds, have been ruined by overfeeding. Let’s present them fit not fat,” added Chris, with this being the first year of the sale, there will be 36 entries forward, ranging from in calf heifers down to yearlings, from nine top herds.

The Burradon herd have five maiden heifers set for the sale, all sired by Clenagh Lyle.

“They are the pick of our 2020 crop, out of some of our best cows. I would say a couple of them have real show potential as two-year-olds this summer – it is an opportunity not to be missed.

“Overall, I would strongly recommend this sale to anyone thinking about buying a Charolais female. It’s a good time of year for people to bring females into the herd, to get acclimatised before either calving in the Spring or bulling in the Summer,” added Chris, who has already completed his two years as Chairman of the British Charolais Cattle Society, Chris went one step further and took on the President of Charolais International and Chairman for one year. Even more exciting as Chris and his committee are organising the upcoming World Congress in the UK this summer.

“This is an exciting opportunity for us to showcase British Charolais cattle to breeders from all over the world. The plans are in place and the application forms are going out now so hopefully Covid restrictions will be lifted, and delegates will be able to travel freely,” explained Chris, with delegates arriving at Heathrow on July 7.

There are several visits across England and into Wales before visiting The Great Yorkshire Show on July 12 - get your entries in and put your herd on the worldwide stage!! The team will then travel up across the border to four herd visits in Scotland before making their way across to Northern Ireland for a couple of visits and a show at Castlewellan before the finale Gala Dinner at The Titanic Centre on July 17.

Chris added: “British breeders and enthusiasts are very welcome to join for all or part of the tour but must pre-register, with details following soon. This is an exciting opportunity that we have worked hard behind.

“This promises to be a fantastic opportunity for us to make new friends, to get reacquainted with old friends, to show off our country and our cattle to Charolais breeders from around the globe, to see some beautiful countryside, some wonderful cattle and enjoy some great craic following a couple of very difficult years for us all,” he said.

“There is a bright future for the industry, the younger generation need to keep it going and with various concerns regarding veganism and environmental pressures it is becoming more challenging.

As for shows they are an essential part to the farming calendar it is a very isolated career, but the social occasions are needed for everyone’s mental health. It is a great industry to be part of and I wouldn’t change it for the world,” concluded Chris.

Farm Facts

Farm history: Low Burradon has been the family since Chris’ grandfather came here after the Second World War.

Acreage: Low Burradon which consists of 350 rented acres. Approx. 130 acres of arable – Winter wheat, Winter Barley, Winter Oats and Spring barley. Some barley and oats kept for feeding and all straw retained.

The remainder a mixture of temporary and permanent grassland.

Partnership: Chris and his wife, Helen owns the partnership. Employing one full-time employee, Daniel White and getting contractors in during arable work and silage etc.

Livestock numbers: 40 pedigree Charolais cows plus followers (approx 100 head total); 40 pedigree Berrichon ewes producing shearling rams for sale at Kelso, Carlisle and privately; 250 registered Lleyn ewes run commercially producing fat/store lambs and ewe lambs retained.

Diversification: 1200 Gressingham breeding ducks on contract with Gressingham Farms. Eggs collected daily and delivered to the hatchery weekly.

Full time occupation: Since 2005 Chris has worked full time as a Funeral Director, looking after bereaved families around Northumberland.

On The Spot Questions

Best investment: My wife, Helen.

Biggest achievement: My family – three children, Laura, Kathryn and Cameron, and five grandchildren – they are all my pride and joy!

Best advice: Try to learn from your mistakes – I am still making plenty, so hopefully I am still learning!! You are never too old to learn.

Best restaurant: Six restaurant at the Baltic, Newcastle Gateshead Quayside.

Where do you see yourself in 2031: Still trying to reach my full potential.