I’M James Alexander and I farm on the shores of Lough Neagh near Randalstown, County Antrim. We keep approximately 1,000 replacement beef heifers together with 2,500 commercial ewes. We also have a small flock of 100 pedigree Suffolk sheep.
In 1998 I completed a National Certificate in Agriculture at Greenmount Campus, CAFRE. This one year course consisted of a good balance of classroom based and practical learning which we put into practice on the campus farms. The farms at Greenmount provided an excellent practical learning resource which enabled me to ‘learn by doing’.
I thoroughly enjoyed the course and my time spent at Greenmount. I learnt many skills and practical applications which have since been adopted on our family farm. Equally important, my year at Greenmount was where I formed friendships that have endured ever since.
Aside from time spent travelling in New Zealand and Africa in 2000, I have worked on our family farm since leaving Greenmount. I work alongside my father and I am now also raising five children here.
In recent years we have made a number of changes to the focus of the farm. Mark Twain said ‘to stand still, is to fall behind’. We are forever evolving here to ensure that we don’t do exactly that.
For many years we were primarily a suckler farm, calving approximately 500 cows each year with progeny kept through to beef. Using the knowledge and skills learned at Greenmount Campus I concentrated on breeding a consistent ‘U’ grade animal and developed a brand for ‘show quality’ animals.
The success of this has led to many opportunities and I had the honour of judging major shows such as Smithfield and Countryside Live.
In 2014 we sold our suckler cows and started to buy in maiden replacement heifers. We cross these heifers with easy-calving Limousin bulls and sell them in-calf. Again in moving with the times, we have changed not only the animals we sell, but also the way we sell them.
In 2021 to date we have held two on-farm sales where we have auctioned our own heifers.
While there have been some customers present in the yard, we also had an online platform. The majority of cattle have been sold online with a lot going to GB and ROI.
Back in 2016 a policy change led to the re-introduction of a commercial sheep flock, albeit in a new format. Today we have approximately 1,000 commercial ewes, consisting of Cheviot mules which are crossed with Suffolk rams. However, the challenges of Brexit have put the sustainability of this model in jeopardy. Indeed the difficulty with importing Cheviot mules from mainland UK may lead to yet another change in 2021.
We sell our sheep in an on-farm auction each July – with 2021 being the third consecutive year of the sale.
I think that regardless of set-up or farm size it is important to focus on breeding and keeping animals which you consider to be of quality and are in keeping with the land and resources available. Our industry is challenging and I have found that keeping livestock that I enjoy and can take pride in helps provide me with the motivation for the early mornings, late nights and long days!
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