SEAN Mitchell’s enthusiasm for pedigree livestock breeding and showing has been paying off since he came home to work on the family farm near Skelton in Cumbria.

Though his plans to repeat his success on last year’s show circuit have been put on hold due to the coronavirus crisis, Sean, 19, has a show team lined up with cattle from the three small pedigree beef herds which are run alongside the commercial dairy and sheep enterprises at Grassknop Farm.

Sean spent a year and a half on a level 2 agricultural apprenticeship at Newton Rigg working for Jonathan Watson at Bowsden Moor, near Berwick-Upon-Tweed, and gaining valuable experience with the farm’s Tweeddale pedigree Charolais and Limousin cattle as well as pedigree sheep.

He came back to work at Grassknop for lambing time last spring. The 380-acre tenanted farm is run by his dad Alistair and mum Alison, who is also a receptionist for Paragon Veterinary Group, helped by his brother Aiden, 17, who also works as a builder and plasterer, and sister Carla, 15.

Sean is helped by friends and showing enthusiasts Amy Wilson, 21, and Taylor Allison, also 21, who both live nearby.

At last year’s Royal Highland Show Sean was proud to lift a number of awards with the home-bred British Blonde bull Hutton Oli. The 12-month-old bull sired by Hutton Harry was junior male champion, male champion and reserve junior champion in the Blonde classes.

“I was very surprised to win at the Highland on my first attempt at showing a the event,” said Sean. “It would have been my Dad and Gran and Grandad who would have shown Blondes there last - 28 years ago.”

It was the first time in 28 years for the family to exhibit at the event. The Hutton herd was established with the first Blonde to be imported - Intuitive - in 1973 by Sean’s grandparents George and the late Veda Mitchell, who farmed at Hutton End.

The Blonde herd was lost in 2001’s foot-and-mouth epidemic, along with the dairy herd and sheep.

Since then the herd has been re-established to number ten pedigree cows with followers and two Blonde stock bulls used on the pedigree cows as well as the dairy herd.

The Blonde bull is used with the black-and-white bull on the farm’s herd of 140 commercial Holstein Friesian cows which calve year-round.

The value of the Blonde cross calves which are sold deadweight is testament to the breed’s success as a dairy sire, achieving good weights and grades for finished bulls.

One of the herd’s successful cows bought as a cow-and-calf unit in 2014 was Hackleton Elicia and her calf Hackleton Ibis.

Ibis - described by Sean as a breeder cow - was shown successfully last year as a seven-year-old with her bull calf Hutton Pablo at foot. She was breed champion at the first show of the season, the Cumberland, followed by winning her class at the Highland.

Last season Ibis went on to win the breed championship right on the doorstep at Skelton Show, a first ticket at Penrith, breed champion at Cockermouth and Hesket Newmarket and reserve breed championship at Appleby and the Westmorland county.

Hutton Oli, the Highland show male champion, is a maternal brother to Ibis.

Ibis is due to calve to Abricot, one of the first imported bulls to the UK which the Mitchells have been able to buy semen from, at the end of April, and is lined up for this year’s show team.

Three other 2019-born Blondes will make up the show team - Ibis son Hutton Pablo another bull Hutton Packman and the junior heifer Hutton Pam.

Sean is involved with his dad who owns the Blondes in the herd’s breeding and he says the aim is to breed a show-type animal which will appeal to both commercial and pedigree breeders.

“We have gone back quite a lot into earlier bloodlines to try to breed something different to sell although two of the bulls are quite muscly and would suit the commercial breeder,” said Sean.

Sean’s interest in pedigree cattle expanded into the Charolais breed when he and his mum bought their first in-calf heifer Edenhurst Indigo for 4,000gns at Peter Vasey’s dispersal sale in 2015 to establish their Huttonend herd.

An embryo out of Indigo, Huttonend Oli, by Alwent Goldbar, was reserve junior male champion and reserve male champion at the Highland Show last year.

Another first for Sean - at the Stirling October bull sale the bull won its class and sold for 4,000gns.

Huttonend Malibu by Blelack Digger, went on to produce a heifer calf by Maerdy Victorious, Huttonend Passoa which is expected to make a show animal.

A further investment in the herd this February was the purchase at the Stirling Charolais sale of Allanfauld Ozzy, by Allanfauld Lachie and out of Allanfauld Gaga, for 5,500gns.

Ozzy will be joining the show team this year. Sean intends to flush the heifer and put her in calf this summer.

When selecting sires for the Charolais, Sean looks at the breeding values and places calving ease high on his list of priorities - Blelack Digger has excellent calving ease figures.

From the two foundation cows, Sean hopes to build up a herd of around ten breeding females by breeding and possibly buying in new bloodlines.

The farm’s traditional herd of Belted Galloways was established in 2010 with the maiden heifer Castlefield Grace, purchased from Roger Robson of Ivegill, Carlisle.

“Dad had forgotten Mum’s birthday the year before so I reminded him it was coming up and suggested he buy her a Belted Galloway and he did,” said Sean.

“The first year Grace had a bull calf and we put it in the freezer - it produced fantastic beef. The next year she had a heifer calf and she has produced numerous other females to add to the herd,” said Sean.

Her most successful calf to date has been the bull Grassknop Benjamin which sold for 4,000gns in October 2017. On the same day they bought the heifer Donnay Lucy which produced a heifer calf last year.

From the Beltie herd the heifer Grassknop Mai was fourth in her class at the Highland Show and went on to take the any other breed championships at Skelton and Penrith shows and reserve champion at Cockermouth, taking the junior championship in Belted Galloway classes at the Westmorland County.

She will be in the show team this year with her calf which is due in April along with a young bull, Grassknop Gremlin.

Sean believes there is a great future for the Belted Galloway in conservation grazing schemes - which is reflected in the very high level of clearance at the Castle Douglas sales.

Sean’s first venture into pedigree livestock breeding was when he was just eight years old and he bought his first six Kerry Hill in lamb ewes from a breeder in Wales. The Grassknop flock, one of the first to be established in the area, has since grown to an optimum 20 breeding ewes.

Shearling gimmers from the flock are in demand from both pedigree breeders and for rams to cross with commercial ewe lambs and sales have reached 1,000gns twice for rams.

The Kerry Hills are run alongside the farm’s commercial flock of Mules, Texel, Suffolk and Beltex crosses and sister Carla’s pedigree Ryelands to number 600 in total, including hoggs.