Neil and Irene Armstrong
The Armstrong’s farm 230 mostly-owned acres. Three generations are
at Plaskettlands, the base for the 80 pedigree milking cows – Joe
and Kathleen have lived there for more than 50 years, and son Rodney
and daughter-in-law Annabel and their family also live there.
At neighbouring High Tarns, Rodney’s brother, Neil, and his wife,
Irene, and family run their own pedigree herd of British Blues, as
well as finishing both pure-bred and crossbred bull beef and rearing
the replacement and store heifers.
Neil and Irene have maintained a small, but select herd of Blues
which, despite only running to 17 animals in total, eight of which
are cows, won the Border British Blue overall herd in the 2012 annual
competition, and in three out of the four years the contest has run,
have taken the small herds section.
“We were using the Blue on the Ayrshires and the calves were quiet
to handle. We had no trouble calving them and they seemed a good
complement to the Ayrshire cows,” said Neil.
Keen to establish a pedigree beef herd, Neil and Irene bought their
first Blue female in 1989, paying 800gns for Great Pineham Francesca
at the May sale at Borderway, Carlisle. Soon to follow was
probably their most successful cow, Lawns Emerald Isle, bought for
1,400gns and which was unbeaten at ten shows in 1993, including Ayr
and the Royal Highland.
When she was purchased, she was in-calf for luck and the resulting
bull calf, Goodyhills Hallmark, sold for 2,900gns and went on to
work until it was 13 years old. Neil’s enthusiasm for the breed led
him to be one of the founder members of the Border British Blue Club
in the early days of the breed in the UK and the choice has proved
to be a big success for the family business.
Neil and Irene have continued to improve their Goodyhills herd of
Blues, and bulls, as well as AI bulls, are used on the bottom third
of the Ayrshire cows with the remainder AI’d or served naturally
with pure pedigree bulls mainly from British and North American bloodlines.
All males are kept entire. They are brought to High Tarns at three
to four months and finished at 16 to 18 months on Jim Peet Big Boy
rearing mix, barley and big bale silage. The bulls are sold
through Hopes of Wigton. Recent batches have seen the Blue crosses
making 210-220p a kg and pure-bred Ayrshires 170-180p kg.
Ballyhossett George was bought for 5,000gns
Crossbred females are sold at 18 months through Borderway, Carlisle’s
store or weaning ring, and regularly make £850 to £900 a head with
a proportion selling for breeding. Pure-bred Blue bulls and
females not retained for breeding have recently made 244p a kg for
a 13-monthold bull, and a 12-month-old heifer sold for £1,260.
“We like to keep our pedigree Blue herd looking right and any animal
which we believe is not good enough is sold through the prime ring
or store,” said Neil. “If females or bulls are not correct we won’t
breed from them. By using the Blue successfully on the Ayrshires
it means that not only do we have the milk income from the dairy
cows but we also sell a crossbred finished bull or store heifer.”
Two of the cows in the herd are directly descended from Lawns Emerald
Isle, but others carry bloodlines going back to her dam, Laverda
du pre Rosine, through former stock bull Twining Ash Van Dyke. The
show cow, which was all white with a black nose, unfortunately had
to be put down on the farm after an accident when she was only seven.
However, in what was advanced technology at the time, involving
Wigton vet George Girvan, eggs were taken from her ovaries and subsequent
IVF resulted in another show-winning heifer, Goodyhills Molly by
Demissionaire De Wilhour. A promising heifer calf in the herd
from the family, Goodyhills Ivana, by Norbreck Fairfax, has the same
Pedigree bulls and females are primarily sold through Border club
sales in Carlisle and the best price for a bull so far has been for
Goodyhills Cavalier. Females have sold to 3,200gns for Goodyhills
Sapphire, a maiden heifer.
New bloodlines are being introduced to the herd by the latest stock
bull, Ballyhosset George, bought at the Northern Ireland Club sale
in Moira, Co Down, for 5,000gns last year when he was the show’s
His first calves are due in September. Neil and Irene were attracted
by his mobility, his temperament, length, height and muscling – as
well as his presence. The bull’s full brother, Duke, sold in Carlisle
“We want to breed cattle for their mobility and ease of calving.
In the past 18 months, we have only had one Cesarean and it was a
large calf,” said Neil. “We have got to keep bulls correct
on their legs and feet to ensure the buyers keep coming back. Our
bulls are also generally long-lived.
“Our cows live outside all the year round as we have light, gravelly
land, although at times plenty of rain from the west. They are fed
silage and some concentrate and minerals as they approach calving.”
As well as the cattle business, potatoes and vegetables, which have
been grown at Plaskettlands for 70 years, are sold by Rodney and
Annabel at local markets. Irene has also been running her own
successful soft furnishings business from High Tarns for the past