Feeling bullish: Henry Savage on breeding prized livestock Jagger
Jagger the bull’s a livestock lothario on a par with his famous namesake. But when breeder Henry Savage was told he’d fetch £150,000 at auction he was sure someone was taking the Mick. Ivan Little reports
Headline-grabber Jagger, the prize bull who was named after a Rolling Stone, may have put the rolling hills of south Armagh back on the map again for all the right reasons. But down round Cullyhanna way, they’re used to big names chewing the cud on Henry Savage’s farm.
And that’s because the likes of Michael Jackson, John Lennon, Julio Iglesias and Annie Lennox have all enjoyed the green, green graze of home among the enterprising farmer’s champion Trueman Limousin herd.
For Henry, who has just pocketed an eye-watering £147,000 at a sale in Carlisle for Jagger, his “one-in-a-million” 17-month-old bull, makes sure all his pedigree animals have musical monikers.It’s only rock and roll but he likes it. And wild horses wouldn’t make Henry drop his rhythm and bulls designations, which prove that music has charms to soothe his Savage breast.
Standing with him on his farm, surveying the majestic sweep of scenic splendour all around us at Altnamackin, where the impressive Jagger swagger was first spotted, it was clear that Henry had no shortage of satisfaction about his stunning coup at Carlisle.
Five English farmers formed an impromptu consortium to get a bit of the bull’s action at auction paying the highest fee ever for a Limousin. And Henry, whose pedigree bulls hit big prices in the past, has no intention of getting off of his cloud of elation just yet — especially as he hadn’t been sure that other breeders would want Jagger to be their man so much that they would fork out a fortune to buy him.
And even when farmers rocked up their bids to unprecedented levels for Jagger, Henry still had to pinch himself that they were not taking the Mick. He says: “When we left here with Jagger in the trailer for the Larne ferry we said that, if we didn’t get £20,000 for him at Carlisle, we were going to bring him home to use him on our own cows here. We thought he might make £40,000 to £50,000.”But Jagger's reputation had clearly preceded him, and three groups of farmers were competing to buy him.
Footage of Jagger's sale at Carlisle has been posted on YouTube, and even though the opening bid for him from a Fermanagh farmer was a remarkable 50,000 guineas, Henry remained sanguine throughout the auction - on the outside, at any rate.
At one point, the clip showed him wiping his hands with sawdust, which was his way of ensuring that the inevitable hand-shaking after the auctioneer's hammer came down would be carried out in a dignified - and hygienic - fashion.
But he wasn't the only one to clean up. The consortium who bought Jagger are planning to export his semen around the world for other farmers to artificially inseminate their cows.
Henry, who was a teacher for 32 years, says: "That's where the big money is. I know of one bull recently whose semen grossed £200,000 in his first year alone."
It's expected that Jagger's semen will be in big demand in the Republic, France, Spain, Denmark, South Africa, America, New Zealand and Australia.
So, before too long, the boys from the Co Armagh could be strutting their stuff in all sorts of far-flung corners of the globe.
And the semen doesn't come cheap. It's sold in units - known as straws - and they could fetch up to £100 a time, according to Mr Savage, who says his bull's new owners are among the biggest breeders in England and have fine cows that will want to, er, spend the night with Jagger.
Which means that this particular bull will be just as busy as his legendary lothario namesake was in his younger days. And reputedly still is in his wrinkly and hair-dyed old age.
"They will want to use his line on them so that they can produce progeny which will be similar to Jagger. That's why he was worth that sort of money.
"But the five farms are spread out all over England, so they will have to share him out during the fertile months," says Mr Savage, whose wife's father was a greyhound breeder in Portadown.
And his father-in-law's musical names for his dogs struck a chord with Henry, who, like his dad, played the fiddle.
His son, Henry Jnr, is a peripatetic music teacher and his wife, Deirdre, is another fiddle player, who along with her siblings achieved success as the Marley Sisters, who used to tour Europe and appear on RTE's Late Late Show. So the Savages have no difficulty complying with the regulations which state that every year pedigree bovine stock must have names starting with specified letters of the alphabet.
In 2014 it was the letter J, and as well as Jagger other animals in the herd were dubbed Jukebox, Jacko, Jackson Five, Jethro (Tull) Jerry (Garcia), Jessie J, Jason (Donovan) and even the non-musical exception - JR from Dallas.
This year, the designated letter has been L, and so far the new arrivals have been given names ranging from Led (Zeppelin), La Toya (Jackson), (Annie) Lennox and Liza (Minnelli) to Lonnie (Donegan), Lionel (Ritchie), (John) Lennon and (Jennifer) Lopez, who is appropriately enough a shapely heifer.
Other names have been influenced by hit songs, including Jolene, Julia, Juliette, Lucille and Layla.
Next year, the names will have to start with the letter M, which of course raises the intriguing prospect of a (Van) Moo-rrison on the loose.
But Henry Savage is doubtful that he can hit the jackpot again in such an amazing way as he did with Jagger.
He knew he was on a roll with the embryo calf right from the start. And the name fitted like a glove - especially as Jagger's father was a gigolo, Ampertaine Gigolo, with the bull's Trueman prefix coming from the townland where the Savage farm is located.
"Even at a week old, you could see Jagger was a wonderful animal, a one-in-a-million, because he had broadened out so fast," says Henry. "We realised that he would be a superstar one day if everything went right because early on his weight, his length and his shape looked perfect."
Jagger, who weighed 40 kilos at birth, put on two-and-a-half kilos almost every day, which is an almost unheard of bulking-out among bulls and, just five months ago, he tipped the scales at 690 kilos the day before the Balmoral Show, where he ended up as reserve overall champion.
By the time of the Carlisle sale, however, Jagger had rocketed to 1,065 kilos which is 167 stone and 9.92309227 pounds. A stretch Limousin if ever there was one for Henry, whose father was a farmer who died in 1980.
Henry was 22 at the time and a teacher in Maghera, but he later moved to a school nearer home in Cullyhanna and became more and more involved with farming.
"My brother, Patrick, had kept the farm going, but it was only when I came back in 1983 that we built the new cattle houses on the right hand side of the road," he says.
"Patrick and I worked together for seven or eight years, but we both got married and we decided we would do our own things. The farm had been split when my father died - 30 acres each. I had been in beef cattle and wanted to try something different."
In 1996, Henry bought 36 small heifers and a Limousin bull to put with them. He says: "They all calved down fairly well, but the following year I bought a pedigree Limousin bull and that was the start of a new era."
He concentrated on Limousins as they require little or no help with calving.
"The Limousin has a very light bone in comparison to a Charolais, for example," Henry says. "And when a cow goes to calf, the stronger the bone, the more difficult it is for her to produce that calf. With a Limousin, the bone is not nearly as strong and their pelvic side is much bigger, so they calve a lot easier."
Henry says he'll miss Jagger, but reckons the six-figure sum he got for him will ease the pain.
He insists however that breeders like him and his family don't view their herds as walking pound note signs. "You look after them all the same way whether they are worth £2,000 or £140,000," he says.
And his family's unstinting dedication and constant care for the Trueman Limousin herd is underlined by the dozens of awards they have won down the years.
The plaques, the sashes and rosettes are everywhere around the farm, including an outhouse which has almost run out of space on the walls for any more awards.
Another honour came even before the Carlisle auction at a pre-sale show where Jagger was chosen as the overall supreme champion by a judge, Kevin Bohan, who is from Laois and is the chairman of the Irish Limousin Cattle Society.
He said at the time: "This bull has the lot - he is the most powerful champion bull that I've seen with a super backend and top. He's just full of class and style throughout, a truly exceptional Limousin bull and a great credit to the Savage family."
The new owners of Jagger reckon that they've scooped a bargain.
One of them, Melanie Alford from Devon, said there was exceptional potential in Jagger, adding: "He has size, shape, style, is very correct and walks well. The terrific weight gain that he has shown is something that you would expect he will pass on to his progeny.
"He has fantastic figures and his bloodlines bring something a little different as well.
"He's a marquee bull with a huge future ahead of him and one in time that through semen collection we aim to make available to breeders and across the board both domestically and internationally."
The CEO of the British Limousin Cattle Society, Iain Kerr, said the Savage family were now part of farming history, adding: "This is a landmark moment in the history of the UK's pedigree beef industry, and the Savages are a central part of that. I'm delighted for them. It's a great reward for breeding such a quality bull."
Henry has been pleased to accept the compliments as well as the cash.
But he has been in the spotlight before when he was one of the farmers who featured in the UTV series Rare Breed - A Farming Year.
Henry's natural charms and easy communication skills made him an unforgettable contributor, but off-camera he's just as articulate and just as affable.
Indeed, he's a man who could talk for Ireland - never mind farm for it.
However - to paraphrase the real Mick Jagger - I realised that time was not on my side during my visit to Altnamackin, where even the kitchen clock had an image of a Limousin on it.