Every year, the Royal Ulster Winter Fair attracts the best genetics within pedigree dairy breeding from herds across Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

The prestige that goes with winning a breed championship can seriously boost a pedigree herd’s profile, attracting new and old customers wanting the best available bloodlines for milk production.

The 2023 Winter Fair promises a top class line-up of dairy cattle, from calves right up to the senior cow classes. Judging across the various breed championships kicks off at 10am.

Hoping to make a mark in the show ring this year is the Slatabogie Herd, owned by the Alan and Leanne Paul from Maghera.

This year will be a real family affair, as their children are also competing in the young handlers classes.

With one week left to show day, Alan and Leanne give an update on how preparations have been going for the 2023 Winter Fair as well as an overview of Slatabogie Holsteins.

What is the background to Slatabogie Holsteins?

“We are a family farm going back 70 years and started breeding pedigree Holsteins around 30 years ago.

“There are two generations involved with the herd, ourselves and our four children, Cody (9), twins Dylan and Jamie (8) and Ariana (3). We also have two part-time staff on farm.

“We run 105 milking cows, 90% of which are pedigree Holstein, 5% being pedigree Ayrshire and the remainder being recipient cows to accommodate some embryo transfer breeding.

“Cows are milked through Lely robots, typically yielding 11,400 litres annually at 4.11% butterfat and 3.3% protein.

“We use sexed Holstein semen on the majority of cows, although the lower end of the herd is used to carry high genetic merit embryos.

“The herd was destocked in 2007 and re-built from 2008 onwards, starting with the purchase of Cannontown Kite August Red as a foundation cow.

“After a successful flushing programme, we got two heifers on the ground from her. Things have progressed and 50% of the current herd originate from these two daughters in our August Red bloodline.”

How long have you been showing cattle and what have been the highlights?

“When my father established the herd, we would have attended a lot of shows around the country before taking a break from the scene as we re-built the herd.

“We got back into showing cows in May 2019 at Balmoral Show and since then, we have attended various events from summer shows to the bigger events like the Winter Fair. There have been plenty of ups and downs but the highlights came in 2019 and 2021 at the Winter Fair.

“In 2019, we were fortunate to win the champion heifer in milk, and interbreed champion heifer, with Boghill Glamour Hurricane Carlin. Two years later, we won the senior heifer in milk class with Slatabogie Manana Secure August Red.

“We also exhibited some Ayrshires at the 2021 Winter Fair and won the junior championship with Slatabogie Hector Alice. She went on to take reserve interbreed champion and got an honourable mention in the supreme championship.”

What is your show team for the 2023 Winter Fair?

“This year, we have entered two heifers in milk, one cow in her second lactation and one third lactation cow along with five maiden heifers.

“Our children are entered in the young handlers competition, so there will also be a team of calves going to the show that they will lead in the ring.”

When do you start preparing animals for shows and who leads animals in the ring?

“We show a lot of heifers as calves, so we look out for animals that catch the eye from a young age and follow on from there. In terms of the Winter Fair, we started preparing animals around eight weeks ago. The show team would be separated out from the main herd for a bit of extra attention and feeding.

“Cows and heifers in milk would have been shown as calves, so they are well used to being led on a halter.

“On the day of the show, we get help to clip and dress cattle, as there is just so much to do. We are lucky to get help from Rachel Corley and Adam Torrens. They have helped out with our show cattle for some time and will be helping again at the Winter Fair.”

What do you enjoy about showing cattle?

“Showing cattle is the best way to get the name and profile of your herd out there to customers. There is no better way to showcase your breeding and let others see what you have to sell. There is also a great social side to showing, as it gives you a chance to get talking to other breeders and meet friends.”

What tips would you give someone starting out in the pedigree show circuit?

“Try to pick out potential show animals from an early stage. That gives you more time to work with cattle and give them some extra attention.

“When it comes to training cattle to walk on the halter, we find a little and often approach is best. It is better to spend 10 minutes every day leading cattle, rather than one hour every two or three days.

“Getting the feeding right before a show is also a big thing and comes with experience.”

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