The exhibition of dairy stock across the various breed classes is undoubtedly one of the highlights for anyone paying a visit to the RUAS Winter Fair.
Every year, the event attracts the cream of the crop of dairy genetics from both sides of the Irish border. For the breeders, the event is as an opportunity to showcase their herd and attract potential customers.
This year, one of the exhibitors in the Holstein classes is the McCormick family from Bangor, Co Down.
The family are the owners of the renowned Hilltara herd and have a long established reputation for breeding prize winning animals.
As the person who usually takes the halter when showing animals, John McCormick gives an update on preparations for this year’s Winter Fair.
1 What is the background of Hilltara Holsteins?
We are a family run farm with three generations currently involved. There are my parents, Samuel and Patricia, my wife Kathryn and myself – and not to forget our three kids, Sam (8), Tom (6) and Katelyn (3), who usually get a job or two.
My dad started breeding Holsteins under the Hilltara prefix in 1985 and things have grown ever since.
2 What size is the current herd?
We are currently milking 420 cows. All cows in the herd are pedigree registered and every animal is bred back to a Holstein sire.
Our cows generally yield around 11,000l annually at 4.09% butterfat and 3.35% protein.
Along with family members, we have full-time and part-time staff on-farm, as well as a number of relief milkers to help out.
3 How long have you been showing cattle at the Winter Fair?
Dad started showing cattle at the Winter Fair in 1992, but we have missed a few years due to herd restrictions.
In the past, we would have attended various other local shows. But more recently, due to time constraints, we have only shown at four main events.
These include Balmoral Show, the Baileys Champion Cow Competition at Virginia Show, the Winter Fair and the NI Holstein Young Breeders calf show for the kids.
4 What have been your standout moments showing cattle?
Our biggest highlight came in 2017, when we won the Baileys Championship and the Winter Fair in the same year.
We managed to win the Baileys Championship again this year with a second calver, Hilltara Undenied Apple, who will hopefully be at the Winter Fair next week.
5 What is your show team for the 2022 Winter Fair?
All being well, Hilltara Undenied Apple will be at the Winter Fair, along with the other junior heifer in milk we had at the Baileys in August, Doorman Maude 21. We have another second calver entered as well.
She has never been shown before, so we will see how that goes. Lastly, our eldest son Sam is planning to show a calf of his this year.
It will be his first time showing at the Winter Fair, but not his first outing on the halter. He showed this calf earlier this year at the NI Holstein Young Breeders (HYB) calf show.
I usually show the cows, but thankfully Lindsey Fleming from Potterswalls Jerseys is on hand to help out. He does all the clipping and fitting of the cows prior to the shows.
6 What do you look for most in a show cow?
For us, we are looking for a correct, balanced cow with an outstanding udder on show. Once a show cow is selected or is identified as having promise, we separate them out from the main herd.
Cows were pulled out around two months before the Winter Fair for specific feeding and management.
7 What do you enjoy about showing?
Seeing your cows looking primed and at their best is really rewarding. But it is also a day away from the usual routine of the farm, as well as a great chance to socialise and have a bit of banter with other exhibitors and farmers.
8 What tips would you give someone starting out showing cattle?
Firstly, separate show cows away from the main herd for priority management. Don’t skimp on the feeding of the animal before a show. Use good-quality feed and keep it consistent.
Good preparation is important and it starts well ahead of the show.
Be patient and take your time getting animals used to the walking on a halter. It will pay off in the long run.