Making sense of high bids for sires
The last few years of the
20th century saw a handful
of pedigree cattle and sheep
breeders make substantial
investments in individual
sires. Did they pay off?
Jeremy Hunt tracks
down the supersires.
SCOTTISH Blackface breeder Ian Hunter has no regrets about signing a cheque for £85,000 for one ram. It was a deal that shot this young Perthshire flock owner into the spotlight after his UK record breaking bid – the highest price ever paid for a sheep in the UK.
Mr Hunter is shepherd for Neil McCall-Smith at Connachan, Crieff but also runs his own flock of 600 Scottish Blackface ewes which are kept on the family farm owned by his father and brother at Dalchirla, Muthill also near Crieff.
In 1997 Mr Hunter was on the look out for a new stock tup. "Id had two very good years and earned around £300,000 from tup sales. I needed a new stock tup and wanted to invest in the very best I could find."
He didnt have to go far to find what he wanted. Hed spotted an outstanding tup lamb in the flock he shepherds for Mr McCall-Smith but the lamb was entered for the breed society sale at Lanark.
He was not alone in his admiration for the lamb and when it came into the ring, he had to take on a battery of fierce bidding from several top breeders. But when the hammer fell at £85,000, it shot Mr Hunter into the record books. So was it all worth it?
Mr Hunter answers with a resounding "yes". From the rams first crop of lambs, a tup was sold for £41,000 in 1998 and this year there have been shearlings sold to £6500 and £7000.
"Hes well on his way to recouping his investment and hes been worth every penny," says Mr Hunter. The record breaker has proved he can pass on his size, excellent carcass shape, good coat, fleece and breed character.
"Hes done a great job for us and hes left some tremendous females as well as male progeny.
"People still ask if it was worth spending so much on a tup but even though things are now very difficult in the hills, there is still a premium for quality.
"The Scottish Blackface as a breed is going from strength to strength. Breeders are very committed to the future and it was clear at Lanark last October (1999) that commercial flockmasters were still prepared to pay good prices for superior sires. Survival for us all in the long term will depend on producing stock of the highest quality," says Mr Hunter.
EIRE-based Suffolk breeder Tom Bailey went to the famous Edinburgh sale in August 1998 with the clear intention of buying a particular ram lamb. Hed flown over to the UK several times during the early part of the summer to see the lamb at home but impressive though he was, the lamb still had some surprises in store.
He stood champion on the first day of the famous Edinburgh gathering and there was no shortage of admirers around his pen. Owner John Sinnett, Stockton-on-Teme, Worcs had broken with tradition that year and instead of presenting his lambs "dressed" hed clipped them several weeks before.
It had served only to demonstrate the conformation superiority of the lamb and Tom Bailey was ready to write a big cheque to take it home. But even this experienced businessman from Co Meath was taken aback when bidding kicked off at 50,000gns.
He kept his nerve and within minutes became the owner of Stockton Almighty. The lamb cost him 75,000gns. "And its been proved that I couldnt have bought a better ram," says Mr Bailey.
He had previously made some hefty investments in good rams over several years and they had all "done a job". But as he succinctly puts it: "Almighty brought everything together. Hes left an tremendous stamp on the flock and his ewe lambs are the best we have ever had."
Almighty is bred in the purple. Hes by Stockton Simply The Best who is a son of the 68,000 Muiresk King of Diamonds who in turn is by Pankymoor Prelude – the ram whose progeny are valued at over £1m.
Almighty, with a reputation for high fertility, has been used on 60 ewes in the Glenho flock this season. In November 1999 one of his ewe lambs, which was champion at the Royal Show, sold for 20,000gns. Almighty, currently the Suffolk breeds Sire of the Year, has also been used in the Stockton, Muiresk and Cairness flocks. His 10 highest priced sons have averaged 10,000gns.
MIKE Yeandle, herd manager for Peter Olds Moynton herd at Dorchester, wasnt looking at the top of the line in a class of young bulls at the 1997 Royal Show. His gaze was fixed on a bull that was standing in seventh place.
Despite this relegation the bull attracted his attention. Mr Yeandles long involvement with the breed also gave him an insight into the bulls breeding.
"I knew his dam and his grand-dam. He looked like just the sort we needed as a new stock bull," said Mr Yeandle.
Barely four-months later the bull, Thrunton Ideal, took the coveted breed championship at Perth for owners Colin Campbell and sons Ian and John from Alnwick, Northumberland.
"I knew then that he would make a big price but I didnt imagine how much."
As the bidding started Mr Yeandle kept in touch with his boss on a mobile phone. "The problem was the line kept breaking up and I wasnt sure how far to go but we finally made contact and Mr Old decided to stick with the bidding."
Thrunton Ideal was bought for 45,000gns and 40% of the females in the Moynton herd are now his daughters. "Hes giving us great style, length, growth and good natured cattle that are easy to handle," says Mr Yeandle.
The herd has achieved Excel Club status through Signet – largely through the influence of Ideal – putting it in the breeds top 1% on performance figures. Semen deals were struck with breeders in New Zealand and Brazil (prior to the BSE ban).
"One stud has an Ideal son they reckon he is the best Charolais bull thats ever been bred in New Zealand. And hes made his mark here in the UK. He sired the reserve junior champion at the 1998 Royal Show and weve got some impressive young bulls to come out this spring." *
SUFFOLK:At 75,000gns Stockton Almighty was a breed record but has more than recouped the initial outlay with sales of siblings.
SCOTTISHBLACKFACE: Ian Hunter paid a record £85,000 for this Blackface ram lamb but has no regrets.