Breeder Robert McWilliams from Swatragh, Co Derry, runs a pedigree herd of Charolais cattle under the Stranagone prefix, with support from his father, Seamus, and brother, Pearse. He started the herd in 2003 at the age of 13. Numbers have been built up over the years, with the herd now carrying 15 cows. He has invested in embryo breeding this autumn with the aim of increasing numbers to between 30 and 35 cows in the next two years.
How long have you been showing cattle?
“I have been showing cattle since I was a kid. My dad would have been into showing cattle, which is how I got started.
We have shown pedigree cattle at Balmoral every year since 2010
“Before I started the pedigree cows, I used to show commercial cattle at fatstock sales such as Allams in Belfast, which we won in 2003.
“We have shown pedigree cattle at Balmoral every year since 2010, with the exception of 2012 when I was in Australia.”
What have been the highlights showing cattle?
“We have managed to win some major prizes at Balmoral over the years. The standout moments were in 2016 and 2017.
“In 2016, we showed a young bull, Stranagone Jones. He went on to win the junior and male championships.
“The following year, the same bull was shown again. He won male champion and was the overall Charolais champion. He also won best opposite sex to the interbreed champion.”
What animals are entered for Balmoral this year?
“We have three bulls entered for the show next week. All three animals are sired by Stranagone Jones, so hopefully they will have similar success.
“Two of the bulls have been entered in the junior class, with one animal in the intermediate classes.”
How do you prepare bulls for showing?
“Having Balmoral in September, rather than May, wasn’t really an issue for getting bulls ready for the show.
“The three bulls entered are due to be sold this autumn, so they were being fed over the summer to build condition. They were pulled out for feeding during the last week of July and housed.
“Halter training is relatively straightforward. We would get animals used to a halter over a couple of days while they are young calves, then leave it.
For me, this is all part of the experience with showing cattle
“Then, when bulls are 12 to 14 months old and have been selected for a breeding sale or cattle show, it is easier to get animals re-familiarised with walking on the halter again.
“We also clip and wash animals for shows ourselves.
“For me, this is all part of the experience with showing cattle.
“The three bulls will be washed twice this week and again on the day prior to the show. Animals will be clipped as needed.
Getting bulls ready for one show isn’t really a problem for us
“We will take the bulls to the showgrounds on Tuesday afternoon to get them settled, then head back up early on Wednesday to start final preparations before the judging starts that morning.
“Getting bulls ready for one show isn’t really a problem for us. We normally just show cattle at Balmoral and again at the National Charolais Championship at Clogher Show.
“So it is much the same as always, as we just focus on getting animals right for one show, rather than trying to keep animals in prime show condition over the full summer show circuit.”
Are you happy to get back showing cattle?
“Being able to show cattle again is great. It is something I have really missed doing. For me, the lack of shows has made it more difficult to promote the best breeding stock for sale.
Balmoral is always a good chance to talk to customers
“I think the lack of shows has also had an impact on the price of breeding bulls, particularly within the Charolais breed.
“Balmoral is always a good chance to talk to customers and generate a bit of interest in animals that will be available for sale.
“It is also a great chance to see what new bloodlines are coming through in the breed, or how certain bulls are breeding and if they are options for using in our herd.”