Belfast Telegraph

Billy's bulls famous around the globe

By Linda Stewart

Billy Robson’s bulls are famous around the globe — but you won’t get to glimpse them at any of Northern Ireland’s agricultural shows.

That’s because the buyers of his famous Simmentals demand animals that are guaranteed free from a host of diseases, including BVD, leptospirosis, IBR and Johnes disease.

So the only way to be certain is to keep them away from any meetings where they could pick up disease — and forego the chance of awards.

The only places these animals see is Kilbride Farm outside Doagh, where they were reared, and the Perth Bull Sales, where they pass into the hands of their new owners.

But it’s worth it, especially when you look at the prices they fetch.

The process of accrediting the herd free of disease is almost complete and it’s paying off.

In 2006, 2007 and 2008, Kilbride Farm stock was being purchased by the best commercial breeders at up to 10,000 guineas, but Billy was supplying stock bulls to many of the top pedigree herds in the UK.

And in the February 2009 sales he and his sons sold eight bulls to average 7,500 guineas, a record average for the breed.

Meanwhile, a bull bred in the herd has been the most used bull in the whole breed for four years in a row. Kilbride Farm Newry has dominated the sales for the last few years, with sons selling to 20,000 guineas.

To add to the success, Billy has just been awarded the Belfast Telegraph Cup for agricultural achievement at the Ulster Farmers’ Union annual dinner.

He was one of the pioneers of the Simmental breed in Northern Ireland in the early 1970s and the only person to serve as president of the British Simmental Cattle Society, setting up a committee to examine the strengths and weaknesses of the breed.

Billy took a one-year course at Greenmount College before enrolling in the agricultural degree course at Queen’s University in 1953, but left when an opportunity arose for his family to lease Kilbride Farm.

He became involved with Holestone YFC and then the Ulster Farmers’ Union, and was elected president of the latter in 1975-76.

In 1971 Billy was one of a group of farmers to invest in the first Simmental cattle to be imported from Germany and these formed the nucleus of what is now the world-renowned Kilbride herd.

“The ones we have now are nothing like the ones we had then. They’ve improved so much over the years by selection and by finding the best bloodlines to use,” he said.

Billy was awarded an Associateship of the Royal Agricultural Societies in 2000 and was made Fellow in 2006.

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