The sale of my prized bull made page three of The Sun newspaper just a few years ago

Henry Savage from Cullyhanna with some of his Limousin beef cattle
Henry Savage from Cullyhanna with some of his Limousin beef cattle

Lisa Smyth

Henry Savage is a 59-year-old farmer who can boast that he has appeared on page three of the Sun newspaper.

It is a peculiar accolade for a farmer from rural south Armagh, but after selling a prize bull for a world record £150,000 at an auction in 2015, he made headlines throughout the national Press.

It was undoubtedly a high point for Henry, who worked as a teacher to supplement the income from his farm in Cullyhanna until six years ago.

"My grandfather bought the farm about 120 years ago and then it passed to my father," he explained.

"Then my father farmed it after him and then my brother and I took it on.

"I always wanted to be a farmer, but then when I was about 10 or 12 things were very tight and because there was me and my brother I knew the farm, which was only about 60 acres in total, couldn't sustain two families.

"We both trained to become teachers actually and I started out as an Irish teacher at St Patrick's in Maghera and worked there between 1980 and 1983.

"My dad had died in 1980 and as I had always wanted to farm I wanted to come home and get more involved.

Get the latest news from the Farming Independent team 3 times a week.

"Luckily, I was able to get a job in a primary school in 1983 and I stayed there until I retired six years ago."

However, juggling a full-time job as a teacher with the farm was a challenge at times.

Henry bought cattle at about one year, bringing them on until they were ready to be sold, which allowed him to keep labour to a minimum.

"I got up in the morning before I went to school and did whatever had to be done, which was mainly the feeding," continued Henry, who is a father of seven.

"Then I went to school and because it was a local school I could be home for about 3.30pm and get on with things on the farm."

But, in keeping with the same passion he has displayed throughout his farming career, it wasn't long before he began to look at ways to increase the income from the 30 acres he owned.

"When you have something about 20 acres it is more of a hobby really," he said.

"There isn't enough throughput to generate a wage and at the end of the day that's what every person is looking for.

"We all need a certain amount of money at the end of the week to pay the bills."

The farm was ticking along but disaster struck in 1996 with the BSE outbreak and the European Commission imposing a worldwide ban on all British beef exports.

"We had a really bad year that year and we decided to do something different.

The change for the business came in the form of Limousin cattle and Henry began a breeding programme that has seen his farm turn out some of the most sought after cattle in the world.

His first taste of success came in 2009 when he sold one of his pedigree Limousin heifers for 38,000 guineas.

"That was eight and half years ago and it was unbelievable," he said.

"It gave us a great feeling of success."

Keen to build on this, Henry turned to advances in science to develop the business even further.

He now uses a technique known as flushing, which allows him to produce more Limousin cattle, increasing the income for the farm.

"Basically when you have a really good animal you want it to produce as many calves as possible but each cow only produces one egg, so we use a technique known as flushing which encourages them to produce maybe as many as 10 or 15 eggs.

"These are then fertilised inside the cow before they are implanted in the surrogate.

"Alternatively, the embryos can be frozen so you have them there when you want to use them.

"This technique really has taken us to the next level.

"Of course, it isn't without its risks, it is extremely expensive and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't.

"However, we're always looking to improve things.

"Four of my sons are interested in farming and they come in the evening, holidays, weekends to help.

"Ultimately the farm will be passed on to my children and I am constantly looking at ways to develop it.

"Breeding the Limousins has become very important, more than half of our business now is producing these quality animals and flushing has allowed us to build develop a lot quicker than we would have otherwise."

The pinnacle of this, of course, was the sale of the infamous Jagger who ended up as reserve overall champion at the Show before his subsequent world record sale at Carlisle.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      oral

Like many farmers, Henry lays great store by showing his prized animals at events like the Balmoral Show as a way of making the all-important sales.

He is a regular face at the Balmoral Show where he meets potential buyers and builds relationships with other people in the industry.

"Some of these people spend half an hour talking to you and might come back and buy something off you six months later," said Henry.

"You have to look after the customer and do good by them and the chances are they will keep doing business with you."

Of course, the business side of farming is not necessarily for everyone, but it is something that Henry enjoys.

"It's such an important part of farming," he continued.

"At the end of the day, that's why we do it, we have to make money at it.

"Some people say Balmoral is a waste of time but I don't look at it like that, I look at it as an opportunity to build and grow the business."

In fact, Henry is looking forward to taking offspring from a cross between the lucrative Jagger and prized heifer Trueman Euphonium to the Balmoral Show in just over two weeks.

And despite the eye-watering sum fetched by Jagger, Henry is not content just to rest on his laurels.

"We're always looking at ways we can develop," he said.

"If you're not trying to improve then there really is no point.

"The idea is that we're constantly trying to produce something better in the next generation.

"You want to be able to look back 10 years and see the improvements in the breed and that's something we are totally committed to achieving."

Belfast Telegraph

For Stories Like This and More
Download the Free Farming Independent App