The Kirk family has been milking Shorthorns since the 1940s as their father Victor Eric had always kept the breed. In the 1960s Victor and his father decided to introduce the Holstein Friesian to the Shorthorn nucleus.
Now Edward in partnership with brothers Joseph and Andrew are hoping to reinstate the Shorthorns prominence through purchases from Society Sales. The fourth generation partnership now runs an enterprise totaling two thousand three hundred and fifty acres; two thousand acres cropping oats, wheat, barley rape and maize which is predominantly run by Joe and Andrews son Robert. Three hundred and fifty acres grass that serves the milking herd and dairy followers, plus four hundred and twenty beef, and two thousand turkeys. Andrew also contract runs one hundred and twenty Red Poll sucklers for the landlord.
Edward is the main driving force behind the management of the milking herd with help from his sister Sarah who occasionally milks, Jonathan an assistant herdsperson and Edwards sixteen year old son Matt who firmly believes “that farming is a way of life not just a job and it is definitely a defective gene I get from my father!” The hundred-cow herd is calved predominantly from October with the hope of finishing by the end of April. Calves remain on the milking farm for two to three weeks and then go onto the old Dairy unit were Andrew takes over the rearing. The herd currently stands at 30% Shorthorn to 70% Holstein Friesian but that is something Edward is progressively changing.
“The Shorthorns are a greatly improved breed and I believe you can make most cows milk so I run a maize and graze system. I love grazing and try for a mid April turn out but struggle with the wet weather so buffer feeding is often essential.”
Kirks’ grow one hundred and thirty five acres of maize, which is a fantastic break crop and wonderful entry into winter wheat. Feeding maize and mixed ration through the summer is possible because the Shorthorns no longer carry the weight they used too “they want to work and are always the first out of the building in spring” averaging 6,700kgs yields with rare vet visits. The Friesians can achieve 8,500kgs easily but they carried so many other problems, especially “concrete fever” that they now seem unsuitable for the Kirk system.
Edward does his own hoof trimming and the herd is tested yearly for BVD, Leptospirosis, blood testing heifers for Neospora, Milk testing for Johnes and Liver Fluke. All purchased cattle are blood tested on arrival and there’s a yearly TB test, which the Kirks’ have never had a positive to date. Edward admits that all he wants is a healthy cow “you can look after ten cows whilst looking after one sick one, we must have the cleanest bill of health and a herd that can walk” yet another reason for the move into a more Shorthorn based herd. The Shorthorns power of recover is outstanding and they have phenomenal legs and feet, fewer cases of mastitis, digital dermatitis and twisted stomachs. The Kirk family is in full support of buying through society sales because of the knowledge of an animal’s health status and buying in is also the quickest way to increase Shorthorn bloodlines.
“Buying through the Society Sales brings great advantages because you are buying from the top herds with an influx of varying cattle genetics.”
Edward has only missed two society sales since he first started buying and he has always had to buy with restraint so not to fill a lorry! But he continues to attend sales and add more Shorthorns to the herd by buying established family names. The first cows Edward brought from Chelford were Dunham Pansy 41st, Wensley Diamond Iris, Winbrook Dewdrop and Wensley Lady Hermione 4th who are all still in the herd. Wensley Diamond Iris is perhaps Edwards favourite cow, docile but with a cheeky character she is milking with her third lactation and has produced the first Brookside Iris a Drisgol Watzon daughter. Iris is a popular cow with the family as Edward’s son states that they fight for ownership of her! Vying for the top spot in Edward’s eyes is Brookside Dewdrop an Oxton Boundless daughter because she is “one of my first achievements in breeding”.
Edward and his family seem to be enthusiastic converts to the breed despite being the only Shorthorn herd in Leicestershire. This has not dampened the Kirks’ interest citing that “the Shorthorn Society has been brilliant” they have a vested interest in their breeders and instantly put Edward in touch with Anne Norbury secretary of the North Midlands Region.
“Anne has made us feel really welcome and the herds competition has been lovely to join, you have the pleasure of good company and helpful answers about breeding.”
In fact the first year Edward entered the North Midlands Herds Competition he won the Heifer in Milk class with Broadlane Duchess Gwynne 93rd brought from Chelford in the autumn of 2012. In the future Edward would be very content milking an all red, white and roan herd whilst keeping on top of the day-to-day running of the farm.
“I find milking cows a joy especially ones that are easily managed which is what I class the Shorthorn to be, they get me up in the morning”.