Chris McCullough

Breeding the best purebred bull or heifer fit for a sale ring is the main goal for the McKay family who run the Ampertaine pedigree Limousin herd in Northern Ireland.

Based near Upperlands in County Londonderry the McKay family, William, his wife Jean and son James, established the herd back in 1986.

Today the herd totals 130 pedigree cows grazed on the family’s 100-hectare farm managed by James who is married to Lynn and together they have a one-year-old son, Aston.

While pedigree bulls are bred for the British Limousin Society sales at Carlisle, the McKays also breed well-fleshed commercial bulls best suited to the commercial suckler producer in Northern Ireland.

Although the family ran a commercial suckler herd alongside their pedigree herd for a number of years, the decision to move to an entirely pedigree herd was taken in 2002.

In order to honour that decision the McKays brought in new female lines from the Kype and Shannas herds in Scotland and became a full pedigree herd.

Each year the family sell about 40 bulls from home to suit the demand from the local market and take a further 20 bulls across the Irish Sea to sell in Carlisle.

“We like selling at Carlisle as there is always a good selection of buyers both at the ring and online. Our bulls have sold well there achieving good prices over the years,” James said.

Indeed those prices for the stud’s stock have been exceptional reaching 100,000 guineas back in 2017 for Ampertaine Mozart with a number of other high prices recorded.

Mozart was born in January 2016 by Kype Orkney and out of Ampertaine Glamourgirl, and was the fourth Limousin bull to breach the 100,000 guineas mark. (A guinea is the British cattle sales currency. It’s basically a pound with a commission added for the sales arena. ie 10,000 guineas means the farmer receives £10,000. In each case a guinea meant one pound and one shilling (21 shillings), or one pound and five pence (£1.05) in decimal currency.)

The British Limousin Cattle Society autumn bull show and sale held at Borderway Mart, Carlisle, in October 2019 saw a top price of 40,000gns (NZ$83,400) with a total of 83 bulls going under the hammer to an average of £5826 (NZ$12,030).

A half share of Ampertaine Gigolo was sold privately to the Corporation herd, Holland, for an undisclosed five-figure sum.

It’s not only bulls that sell well for James and his family as heifers with the Ampertaine prefix are also highly sought after by both pedigree and commercial farmers.

For 10 years in a row the stud won the large herd category of the Limousin herd competition. Although they have not entered it in the past two years James is considering entering the competition next time. Down on the farm James is well pleased with the breed which his father William first brought to their farm in the townland of Ampertaine back in 1984 and then registered the pedigree herd two years later.

“We use only AI here on the herd with mostly our own semen with no stock bulls,” James says.

All sires are chosen to ensure the herd stays at the forefront of the breed and are selected to maximise ease of calving, milking ability and shape in both their males and females.

“We find the breed does not need any special feeding and can maintain themselves well on good quality silage and roughage alone,” he says.

While the bull sales are important dates in the calendar for the McKay family, selling stock from the farm as well as semen are also crucial aspects of the business.

Their stock has been bought by customers all over the United Kingdom and Ireland and even the Netherlands.

“We have a significant number of repeat customers every year coming back to us for more stock.”

Their bulls normally sell at 16 to 18 months while the heifers are sold about 14-15 months.

The commercial farmer is looking for a bull that can produce a healthy, fast growing calf that will finish at a young age about 15 months and 650kg.