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CHAROLAIS, A SOLUTION FOR EXTENSIVE SUCKLER SYSTEMS
Bruce and Lucy Waight say they live ‘a chaotic existence’. While their 400 suckler cows are ranched over 8,300 acres of grassland on the MoD’s firing ranges on the Wiltshire Plains and single strand electric fencing wire and water bowsers are their everyday tools, the couple’s management strategy is run with military precision which is reflected in the herd’s performance. The outwintered herd is split into four groups of 100 cows, have to work within the constraints of the MoD’s activities, each runs with three Charolais bulls; 300 cows calve in and that means officially planning all cattle grazing area March and the remainder August; 66% calve within the first eight weeks in advance, and then being prepared to be notitwo weeks, while the herd is achieving 94% calves weaned fied at 8am to move them on to another area that same day with miles of electric wire from cows put to the bull. fencing and water The majority of March born bowsers in tow. We Charolais cross calves are reared employ four staff to keep solely off milk and sparse grass and apace, they travel up to sold in November straight off their 40 miles a day checking dams through Frome market at an cattle and our quad bikes average 350kg. They invariably rack up 14,000 miles a arrive in the day’s top 5% of market year.” prices and sell to repeat buyers, well Quite fortuitously, aware of their potential, from as far a the Charolais cross field as Cumbria and Norfolk. calves are very conducive “We’re farming very extento the system. “They have sively, however we are focused on a very placid temperamaximising output per animal. Since ment, and we are able to a bull is half the herd, drive them in mobs up to we’ve improved the five to six miles across the calves’ performance quite plain from one grazing area to the simply by buying better next.” bulls - we are now selectCharolais was introduced to ing from within the Compton Farm back in 1990 along with Charolais breed’s top 10% the beef enterprise. “We focused on on Breedplan performance producing quality store calves, and data. We also select bulls Charolais is delivering the goods. with length and plenty of Charolais cross calves demonstrate muscle,” Bruce explains. natural growth with good conformation, “In addition, since 2000 and they are easy to prepare for market we’ve increased cow perin batches of uniform quality and that formance by improving Bruce & Lucy Waight pictured above, go on to consistently top the day’s sale. management, moving to below some of the cross suckled “Furthermore, Charolais is proving closed herd status and with their dams to be complementary to our Hereford Friesian cows; we adopting a preventative herd health approach.” Bruce is the fourth generation of the Waight family select bulls that are narrow on the shoulder and with accomto take on the tenancy of Compton Farm, Pewsey, one of 40 panying high EBVs for ease of calving, and we keep the MoD farms used for military training and amounting to a cows in appropriate condition throughout the cycle; conditotal 94,000 acres or 11% of Wiltshire county. A sheep enter- tion score 2.5 at calving and 3 to start the winter.” Overall herd performance has improved by working prise was swapped for beef for ease of management back in 1990 and since then the herd has grown along with the closely with XL Vet, Keith Cutler, of the Endell Veterinary business scale of operations including a further 1,200 acres Group who encouraged the Waights to adopt a dedicated of arable. The entire grassland area achieved full organic approach to assessing and adjusting their herd management system. Campylobacter was identified as the biggest status in 2006. “We were already farming so extensively that the problem facing the herd in terms of fertility. Nine years on organic conversion required few changes, and it has subse- and the infection has been eliminated as a result of buying quently reduced input costs and introduced opportunities for in young bulls, and moving towards a closed herd status. In calf premiums,” says Lucy. “Added to that, the farm attracts addition, all bulls are fertility tested every other year. a diverse species of wildlife including Great Bustards, Consequently, herd fertility has turned around from just 30% Montague Harriers and Short Eared Owls, and it is of inter- of cows calving in the first month to two thirds calving in the national importance featuring the largest remaining area of first two weeks, and the calving period has been consolidatcalcareous grassland in north west Europe. Together with ed. To the future and Bruce says: “I believe if we continthe MoD we work to protect and enhance the species rich ue to produce a quality product it will also sell, no matter habitat. “If Compton Farm was a ‘normal’ unit, then we could how hard times are, and our Charolais cross calves are able increase stocking rate fivefold,” she says. “However, we to deliver, efficiently and cost effectively.” British Charolais Cattle Society, Avenue M, Stoneleigh Park, Kenilworth, Warwickshire CV8 2RG
SUPERIOR GENETIC BULLS = SUPERIOR CALVES + PREMIUMS Investing in a high performance Charolais terminal sire has the potential to pay real dividends for Gwynant and Meinir Roberts who run a 70 cow suckler herd at Maenllwyd, Pencaenewydd, Pwllheli. Their first crop of calves by a bull within the breed’s top 1% on 400 day weight and eye muscle depth, have achieved an average 1.45kg DLG off milk and grass within their first six months and hit an average 310kg, one month earlier than previous crops. They also have better conformation, Mr Roberts explained at an HCC’s ‘Herd Health and Production’ open day at Bryncir market. “I’ve never had calves grow so well, they’re solid with muscle and are noticeably wide over their tops, they were fairly straight forward to calve and I can’t get over the fact that it’s all down to the bull we choose. We’ve been using Charolais over the herd for more than 20 years simply because of the calves’ unbeatable weight for age and the fact they usually make the day’s top 5% of prices in the strong store ring at Bryncir. However, attending the training meetings held by HCC through the Welsh Beef Quality Improvement Project which were focused on how to select a bull on performance figures, I realised there was more to selecting a bull than meets the eye. “We were taught how to interpret data that accompanies performance recorded bulls in the sale catalogue,
and select a bull using those figures as a priority over his appearance. I went to Perth bull sales with a catalogue marked up with the highest performance bulls, followed HCC’s guidelines and the rest is history. “Producing such high performance calves has given us the option to consider finishing them at home or offering them at a younger age in the store ring, confident that finishers will be able to take them to target weight faster and more efficiently.” A total of 650 farmers have so far attended HCC’s training meetings which have focused on how to select bulls on performance figures. “Feedback has been extremely positive,” reports HCC’s Dewi Hughes. “While the project provided funding to purchase 325 superior genetic bulls, and we have stressed that the benefits of using a bull with breeding potential in the top 10% of its breed. These high genetic merit bulls have the potential to improve these producers’ returns by as much as £46.50 per calf through improved growth rates, better conformation and easier calving.” He adds: “Using superior genetic bulls will inevitably improve the performance and returns of a herd, however the information gained during the training meetings will have a significant impact on the viability and performance of a herd for years to come.”
Pictured is Gwynant Roberts with six month old Charolais crosses by a bull within the top 1%
Tel: 02476 97222 Fax: 02476 690270 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org www.charolais.co.uk
SELECT, MEASURE AND MONITOR Stuart and Linda Evans are focused on continually improving their suckler enterprise in order to maximise output and subsequent returns. “High genetic merit Charolais bulls are a prerequisite and top stockmanship is essential to achieving our goals, yet equally important is measuring and monitoring. We record every individual and we weigh each animal at weaning between 28 to 32 weeks, and the heifers again at nine months, at turnout at between 11 and 12 months of age, and a couple of times before slaughter,” Linda explains.
The couple’s passion for producing quality cattle and paying attention to detail doesn’t stop there. “We always inspect every carcase hung up to determine the true value of the animal. We’ve spent the best part of two years reaching the end product so it’s in our real interests to see what’s under the skin, how the animal has performed and what potential improvements we can make.” Heifers from their combined 160 cow suckler herd finish off grass at an average 18 months, 300kg target deadweight and literally 100% grade within the top three specifications, while for the last seven years steers have been sold off the yard ‘in their working clothes’ to repeat buyers at an average an average 30 weeks and up to 400kgs. “We are delivering what our customer wants,” says Stuart. “We don’t creep our calves, so they go on to finishing with every chance of their potential being exploited. We make a point of keeping in touch with the finishers to find out how they killed out.” Linda and Stuart have applied the same strategy to their two respective units amounting to approximately 800 acres which they run in partnership as one business. Linda and Stuart’s beef enterprise is based at Parc Le Breos Farm, Penmaen, Gower and carries 80 suckler cows, while Stuart’s family farm is based at Cefnstylle, Gowerton to the north of the Gower and runs another 80 cows. A complementary flock of 750 ewes is carried between the two units. Both herds are block calved from the end of March over a six week period after running with a team of six Charolais bulls. “Our current strategy for the suckler herd is to maximise output per cow by producing quality calves from a proven Charolais mated to crossbred dairy cows. We depend on the dam to rear the calf from least cost milk and grass, while the bull confers the best potential performance,” Stuart explains. Charolais has been used over their respective suckler herds for the last 20 years simply because of its ability to consistently leave quality calves that are preferred over other Continental crosses by finishers and butchers alike. However, thanks to HCC’s Welsh Beef Quality Improvement
Project, Linda says understanding and using BLUP data has transformed the couple’s decision making when it comes to investing in a new bull. “Starting to use data as a major decision making tool was a leap into the unknown. The scheme concentrated our minds on the figures’ real meaning and pushed us into realising what the higher genetic merit bulls can really deliver. In fact the data has given us confidence to change the type of bulls we’re using and nowadays it’s a case of having it all. “Since we’ve bitten the bullet, we’re selecting bulls in the top 10% for 200 day weight EBVs and overall Terminal Index as well as ease of calving. They’re consistently leaving calves that are easily calved and they’re very growthy and shapely with muscle running all the way through to the shoulder which is why we have such a high percentage grading in the E and U bracket. “These bulls are very deceptive because they can appear wide on the shoulder, compared to previously when we made our buying decisions on eye; we used to select new herd sires that were narrow on the shoulder and had an average EBV for calving ease. They left easily calved, good growing calves however they didn’t have that same muscling.” While the couple make their selection procedures from the bull sale catalogue at home, when they arrive at the mart, visual appearance and locomotion are the final deciding factors, says Stuart. “We expect a bull to last at least eight working years, so he has to be good on his feet and fit throughout his working life.” The couple say they are extremely lucky in that the Gower has two abattoirs and they are able to use their own transport. Those factors are having an impact on their future plans to finish the steers. “We want to add as much value to the calves as possible and maximising the use of grazed grass, the cheapest form of forage, and our long term objective is to take the entire crop through to finishing,” he says. Europe’s No 1 Beef Breed
The essentials to profitable suckler production “Using our own and local facilities will help to drive down costs, and monitoring how the steers kill out will enable us to stay in control of the entire production chain.” Linda adds: “We’re also dependent on Charolais breeders continuing to make genetic improvements within their herds by selecting in particular for 200 day weight and ease of calving. Their efforts so far have had a major impact on increasing our herd returns, we trust the pace will be maintained.”
Pictured left: Linda and Stuart Evans Below: Charolais cross calves at Parc Le Breos Farm
OFFICIAL SOCIETY AUCTIONEER CONTACT DETAILS
CARLISLE Harrison & Hetherington Ltd, Borderway Mart, Rosehill, Carlisle Tel: 01228 406230 Fax: 01228 406231 STIRLING
United Auctions, Stirling Agricultural Centre, Stirling FK9 4RN Tel: 01786 473055 Fax: 01786 450393 DUNGANNON Dungannon Farmers Mart, 90 Granville Rd, Dungannon, Co Tyrone, N Ireland
Tel: 028 8772 2727
WELSHPOOL Welshpool Livestock Sales, The Smithfield, Mill Lane, Welshpool, Powys SY21 7BL Tel: 01938 554818 Fax: 01938 554607
PETERBOROUGH Newark Livestock Sales, Newark, Nottinghamshire NG24 1BY Tel: 01636 676741 Fax: 01636 611190
Visit to Charolais website for sales catalogues and results www.charolais.co.uk
HIGH GENETIC MERIT BULLS: Some cattle will perform better than others quite simply because of their genetic potential, writes Hybu Cig Cymru/Meat Promotion Wales’ Dewi Hughes. The advantage of using high genetic merit bulls has been clearly demonstrated by HCC which collected the weights of 8,400 cattle as part of its Welsh Beef Quality Improvement Project.
Suckled calves by bulls that were in the top should be gaining an average 1.12kg 10% of their respective breed’s performance per day from birth. figures gained an extra 0.25kg per day over Alun and Wendy Jacob are their lifetime compared to calves from all other among those suckled calf producers bulls. Add together that improved performwho are realising the benefits of using ance and it equates to 137kg over an 18 high genetic merit performance month period, the difference between profit recorded bulls and making sure their and loss. progeny are on track. Their team of Regardless of whether you are selling three Charolais bulls which qualified suckled calves, stores or finished cattle, for WBQIP funding being within the weight undisputedly pays, so it makes sense breed’s top 10% for performance to manage your cattle to grow well and EBVs, are currently leaving steer achieve heavy weights at sale. Taking time calves averaging 1.5kg DLG at weanout to put them over the scales to measure ing at just over six months of age, and monitor their performance to determine if while the heifers are averaging 1.4kg they are achieving their genetic potential is DLG. In comparison, steers by one of time well spent and will pay dividends later on, their previous bulls which scored as will investing in a high genetic merit bull in around the breed’s average for perthe first instance. formance EBVs averaged 1.1kg DLG, The weights collected by HCC from and heifers achieved a figure just Dewi Hughes 8,400 cattle showed a massive variation slightly less. between the lowest 20% performing animals who “The performance difference between the two achieved an average 0.65kg daily liveweight gain (DLG) sets of calves reared in exactly the same management from birth to finishing while the top 20% gained an aversystem is quite striking,” comments Alun. “The calves by age 1.25kg DLG. This huge variation highlights the importhe high EBV bulls are averaging a target 350kg at weantance of knowing the performance of your cattle so that ing, compared with 300kg for those by the average bull. you can manage them appropriately to achieve your tarThat extra 50kg per calf, when multiplied up over 180 gets. Setting a target selling or finishing weight is a good calves sold off the farm annually, amounts to approximateway of managing your growing or finishing cattle, but it is ly nine tonnes of additional beef, which to us represents a only useful if accompanied by targets for liveweight gain. substantial sum.” For example, to achieve a finished weight of 650kg, The Jacobs manage a relatively extensive operaassuming 35kg birth weight, at 18 months an animal tion at Twlly y Gwyddil, a 700 acre SDA unit with accom-
Charolais bulls with a terminal index in the Top 10% of the breed can produce calves woth an extra £50 more than an average TI bull Fast Growth Rates
MEASURING AND MONITORING REVEAL THE REAL TRUTHS panying hill rights based at Craig Cefn Parc, Swansea. The tenanted farm carries 200 suckler cows plus replacement heifers, together with a complementary flock of 1,100 ewes. “We started farming here from scratch 20 years ago, we gradually stepped up cow numbers stabilising at the current herd size, and our objective has always been to maximise output per cow from very limited resources,” he explains. C a r e f u l choice of terminal sire has been one straight forward route to achieving the Jacob’s goal. “He’s half the herd and can be easily Alun Jacob manipulated. We have used Charolais for the last 20 years because of its ability to leave calves with weight for age, they grow uniformally, they are easy to batch up for market in groups of 20 like peas in a pod, and buyers seems to like them,” he says. “As far as dam line is concerned, we’ve developed a closed herd of Angus cross and slightly bigger Simmental Angus cross which are suited to this farm. For example, our 120 spring calving cows have to have the ability to out winter on the hill, they’re never housed.” Calves are sold straight off their dams at six months and averaging a target 350kgs, through Sennybridge Auction and at Brecon and Radnor Suckled Calf Rearers’ annual sales, and they usually find their way into the day’s top 10% of prices. “They sell to repeat buyers and we always make a point of talking to these finishers to find out how well our calves performed and eventually killed out.” The Jacobs became familiar with using EBVs in their terminal sire selection process when they began to use AI in an attempt to choose more accurately bulls with high scores for growth rate, muscle depth and ease of calving. They also carefully selected for milkiness and growth in maternal sires destined for using over 10% of the herd which is used for breeding heifer replacements. “We found these high EBV bulls were consistently leaving high performance calves, a trend that made us realise the data was accurate and worked,” Wendy explains. “In the last five years, we’ve gone on to prove using EBV performance data and it has become second nature to our decision making. Compared with average bulls, those within the Charolais breed’s top 10% are consistently delivering an extra 50kg growth by weaning and the calves have better conformation.” The couple record each calf, its sire and dam, ease of calving and new born vigour, after which its performance is carefully monitored. “We weigh every calf at 100 days to give an indication of performance and to make sure it is on Good Temperament
a suitable trend to reach target weaning weight. We weigh again at weaning to help us appraise the calf’s sire, to see if it is delivering the performance we targeted,” she says. Alun adds: “We’ve started to talk to finishers about the potential of our calves by high EBV performance recorded bulls and how they can be differentiated from others. We want them to be able to explore the whole picture, make more informed decisions on our purchases to select the cattle with the highest potential performance and in turn, the highest margins.”
MEASURING, MONITORING AND COLLABORATION
A group of Dumfriesshire beef producers have developed a collaborative marketing blueprint which is helping to ensure they’re maximising both their cattle’s potential and their margins throughout the chain and meeting market requirements.
The finishers Scott Henderson and Margaret Kingan are committed to finishing quality cattle; between them they turn over an annual 3,000 head of mainly Charolais crosses. Where to source the appropriate suckled calves could have been a major issue, however they have developed a successful collaborative blueprint which features 15 suckled calf producers farming within a 20 mile radius of their steadings – Scott at Carswadda, Beeswing and Margaret, at Lochhill, New Abbey. The arrangement supplies the majority of their requirements, the remainder being sourced from the auction marts. “Scott and I have been working together since 2001 when live markets closed and we were forced to turn to buying privately; trading with local farmers made common sense. We’re able to purchase relatively large batches of animals of the same age from a minimum number of known sources, which has enabled us to reduce transport costs, along with stress and potential health issues,” Margaret explains. Calves are purchased at between 11 and 12 months of age and taken through to finishing from 18 months. “Our preference by far is to buy Charolais crosses, simply because of their superior performance; we target steers to achieve a DLG of 1kg and go on to meet with
processor requirements at 360kg to 370kg deadweight while heifers are targeted at a DLG of 0.9kg and 310kg deadweight. The majority grade with within the R and U specification.” The entire throughput is marketed direct to Stoddarts, based at Ayr which supplies multiples and top end restaurants. “The ongoing partnership is working really well. We spilt each batch of suckled calves by gender according to personal preference, says Margaret. “I just happen to prefer working with steers, while Scott is happier with heifers. We’ve both adopted semi-intensive finishing systems in which the beasts are grazed and fed a semi TMR. “The venture has also enabled us to develop some very strong working relationships with our suppliers. We keep in frequent contact and return to each of them the performance data and kill sheets from every individual animal purchased,” she says. The data includes calf weight at purchase, guide purchase price, number of days to finishing, liveweight at point of sale, deadweight, grade, KO% and sale price together with margin per day and overall margin. The margin figure purely reflects purchase and sale figures and does not contain the finishers’ fixed or variable costs. At the end of each year, the data is averaged across the group of 15 suckled calf producers and those figures act as a bench-
Rory Shennan, Centre, with Margaret Kingan and Scott Henderson Top Conformation
Rory Shennan with some of his crosses
mark for each individual. “It’s a routine that enables each suckler producer to work through the figures, identify their strengths and weakness and take responsibility for their own individual system as they wish, while for us, this data enables us to see whose cattle are performing and those who aren’t. Every supplier thinks they have the best! “ Scott adds: “The critical thing for us is to be able to buy in the correct raw material. We depend on these suckler men, our suppliers, buying a terminal sire that will deliver a calf to finish, not for replacement purposes, and yes, we prefer Charolais crosses, however there are times when supply doesn’t always match demand. “There are also instances where we’ve found cattle sired by other Continental bulls have not achieved target daily liveweight gain and we’ve had to recommend he is replaced by another within the breed’s top 10% on performance data.” The suckler producer Rory Shennan trades a portion of his Charolais cross steers and heifers to Margaret Kingan and Scott Henderson from his family’s 200 cow split calving suckler herd based at Carsegowan, New Abbey, a 230 ha LFA holding which he farms in partnership with his grandfather, William Barbour. “We’ve used Charolais here as a terminal sire for more than 30 years simply for the growth factor. My grandfather has always been a great believer in the fact if the calves weigh, then they pay and it’s one I can’t dispute. I’m rearing our calves to 11 to 12 months, steers to average 400kg and heifers to average 375kg,” he explains. “However, our system has moved with the times, and we’re using various advancements in technology to improve our efficiency and run a profitable business,” he explains. “For example, we implement a proactive approach to herd health and also vaccinate the cows for BVD and IBR. We attempt to keep a tight calving pattern and carefully manage our cows in the run up to calving. “When we buy a new Charolais bull, we continue to Weight for Age
select for scale and scope, however we are now using Breedplan data as a back up tool; since the data has become more accurate, it means we’re no longer going in blind, we’re able to select bulls with more of a chance of breeding fast growing calves. “We’re now investing in bulls within the breed’s top 10% of performance indices, and in particular for 400 day weight, muscle depth and ease of calving Estimated Breeding Values. In future, we’ll also take in 600 day weight in order to help Margaret and Scott achieve target finishing weights faster. “They come back year in year out for our cattle; we put them into large even batches which have the growth rates, and they’re leaving the margins. In fact our cattle are consistently performing better than the average for the entire group which they’re benchmarked against. “For me, the initiative offers plenty of real benefits: I can put away a large batch of beasts in one day, and there’s no preparation required clipping, it takes less than 10 minutes to transport them to Lochhill where they’re put over the weigh bridge, and then another 10 minutes to take the heifers on to Carswadda. Staying local, I’m able to keep an eye on how they’re performing, furthermore checking through the final performance data and kill sheets is really useful. “This detailed information measuring the performance of every single beast keeps the pressure on me to ensure I continue to improve my cattle, their genetics and management. I look carefully at the top 10 and bottom 10 performers, that’s about one third of a batch, and check their sire and dam. If one of the bulls is consistently breeding poorer performers, then I would look to change him, and there have been occasions where a Continental bull was leaving calves with growth rates that failed to match the finishers’ targets.” He adds: “What’s left is for me to do this year is to go and see the carcases hung up and make that final detailed appraisal.”
CHAROLAIS CATTLE AND AD LIB FEEDING ACHIEVE TOP PERFORMANCE AT CULFORK Thainstone Centre. Charolais cross cattle, carefully selected for conformation With price penalties for carcases weighing over and growth potential, achieve top performance and hit the 420kg and the ending of the Beef Special Premium top grade virtually every time for brothers, Gordon, Scheme, the emphasis at Culfork is now on heifers rather Stewart and Dougie Walker at Culfork, Alford, than steers. Aberdeenshire. And the adoption of a Total Mixed Ration to “No other breed can match the performance and replace the previous silage and barley regime, has weight gain of the Charolais,” says Stewart, who runs the allowed throughput to be increased 530-acre farming enterprise with by a third with no increase in overGordon, while Dougie works fullheads, except for the acquisition of time with Aberdeen and Northern a second-hand mixer wagon. Marts. “The job is easier as we are now And most farmers would be feeding only once a day compared envious of the grading sheets from with twice previously and the cattle Mathers (Inverurie) Ltd which show are performing well on an ad lib that of the 219 cattle slaughtered so diet,” says Gordon. far this year, no fewer than 208 have The ration, devised by Harbro classified U for conformation and sales specialist, David MacKenzie, three have even made the rare E comprises silage plus a mix of barclassification with only eight classifyley, Invercrombies (wheat dark ing R and none falling into the lower grains), molasses, and an 18% procategories. Average carcase weight tein Grampian blend with minerals was just over 400kg. and Yea-Sacc to aid rumen digesA snapshot of one group of The Walker brothers, left, tion. This is fed at a low barley home-bred cattle saw 48 steers Stewart and Gordon inclusion rate initially which is quickkilling-out at 437kg deadweight at ly stepped up within a few days. No problems with bloat or 21 months with all but five achieving U grade and 41 laminitis have been encountered. Silage is made available heifers tipping the scales at 373kg at 19 months of age at two bales per week between 40 animals. Yearling and all but eight hitting U. home-bred cattle receive Harbro’s Cattle 35 concentrate “With a premium of 6p/kg for U grade compared over the first winter. with R, it pays to make sure you get as many as possible Target weight gain is 1.7kg/day and feed cost into the higher category,” says Stewart, who admits he works out at £1.72 per kg of deadweight gain. keeps cattle a month longer to make sure they hit the top “The cattle never stand still as grades. you just can’t afford to have them “But we seldom get anygo through a store period,” says thing grading higher than 4H for fat Stewart. “You’ve got to keep them cover and keeping them a little bit moving to achieve high weight longer ensures a better killing-out gain and get them away as quickpercentage,” he points out. ly as possible.” The key to achieving this Health is also vitally important to high level of performance is the use ensure good performance and all of superior Charolais sires in their cattle are vaccinated for worms, own herd of 110 cows, most of fluke and pneumonia at housing. which are Simmental cross with a Quality has always been the few Limousin cross, and the careful name of the game at Culfork and selection of Charolais cross stores, cattle from the farm used to do most of which are sourced either in An impressive group of finished well when shown at Thainstone Orkney or at Thainstone Centre. Charolais cross bulls ready Centre or in carcase shows. “Buying the cattle right is for slaughter Stores are now purchased all the important,” says Stewart. “We try to year round and fast-finished over three or four months. buy cattle with a bit of potential and outcome and not too “Ad lib feeding has certainly helped us achieve lean. Cattle that will go on and grow quickly from the day better performance and increase our annual throughput they come home.” by a third,” says Gordon. “We are achieving a satisfactory And the Walker’s don’t scrimp on buying the best margin at present but, with costs increasing all the time, it when it comes to selecting stock bulls for their own herd. is absolutely vital that returns for finished cattle remain at One of the current stock bulls, Clinterty Uranium, by the least around the present level.” French sire, Jumper, bred by Brian Buchan, Clinterty, New Stewart enjoys nothing better than sitting in his Aberdour, was purchased at Perth for 7500gns and the front room of a summer evening watching his cattle graze other, Balthayock Reuben, by Dingle Hofmeister, bred by contentedly. Little wonder that he has named his house Major D H Walter, Balthayock, Perth, cost 5000gns when “Charolais View”! purchased at the Conglass suckler herd dispersal at Fast Growth Rates
WHY DO SOME CATTLE PERFORM BETTER THAN OTHERS? ....................the answer lies in the genes If you buy in store cattle to finish, then using your eye to sift through the good, the bad and the indifferent may be a relatively straightforward process, however have you actually considered what’s ‘under their skin’ and these beasts real genetic potential?
Making a conscious decision to purchase store cattle sired Charolais crosses are relatively very placid and content. “It’s those higher levels of performance which have by a high genetic merit Charolais bull is a newly adopted strategy that is paying dividends for the Dore family, who fin- been consistent throughout the group that really matters. ish 600 head of bought in cattle each year. “We had no idea However, there’s always the exceptional one or two in any group, and in this particular of the varying degrees of potential perinstance we recorded one bull formance within store beasts until last achieving 526.8kg deadweight in year when we bought some cattle 480 days from birth to slaughter sired by high genetic merit bulls. They and a daily carcass gain really opened my eyes to the fact here 1.098kgs, and he classified U+4L. was an opportunity to exploit potential “Furthermore, being able performance that we’ve never been to take the bulls through to heavable to achieve before,” according to ier weights, and still grade within Alan Dore. our target specification has introTwelve months ago he purduced us to an option of markets. chased 56, seven month old bulls for This season we sold the entire finishing purposes from the same packet of bulls to Kepak – we suckler herd, and they were all by received a flat rate payment, plus Charolais bulls within the breed’s top premium according to grid specifi10% on Terminal Index. They went on cation, and the vast majority were to average 438kg deadweight in 447 traded on for export. days from birth to slaughter and “These cattle had also recorded an average lifetime daily carAlan Dore been IBR vaccinated and wormed cass gain 0.98kgs; seven graded within the E specification, 46 U and three R, while one was in fat prior to purchase which was of major benefit to the extent that literally100% remained healthy throughout the finishing class 2; 38 in fat class 3 and 17 in fat class 4L. “This season, we’ve purchased another crop of period.” On arrival to Home Farm, the weaned calves averbulls and also heifer calves from the same suckler herd, and this time they’re by Charolais bulls within the breed’s top 1% aging seven months old, are introduced to straw bedded on Terminal Index. We’re confident that they have the poten- yards and a 16% CP diet comprising grass silage supplemented with home grown tial to achieve even higher levels of performbarley and bought in proance so we’re feeding them harder from the teins. Approximately one start and intend to reduce the bulls’ days to tonne barley is fed per head slaughter by four weeks and hit 440kg at just over the finishing period. under 14 months, while we plan to take the He adds: “We would like to heifers through to an average 320kg target find more suckled calves weight at 14 months.” bred by producers who are The Dores, Alan, his brother, John aware of the benefits of and their respective wives, Kathleen and Jane using high genetic merit run a traditional arable beef finishing entersires over their cows to leave prise at Home Farm, an 860 acre owner occuthese high performance pied mixed unit, at Glapwell, Mansfield, comcalves. In fact, it would be of prising Continental cross cattle bought in benefit to the entire industry marts or privately via an agent or at the farm if all suckler men selected gate. Calves by top 10% TI their bulls more carefully. “We target bulls to finish between Charolais sires “I also think it would help 360kg and 420kg deadweight and for them all to grade within the 3,4L specification,” he says. “However, the industry if suckled calf producers communicated to us we found this particular batch of Charolais cross bulls was finishers, either at the ringside, from the rostrum or at the exceptional. Their growth rate was phenomenal, both frame farm gate, the genetic potential of their calves. If they use a and muscling, compared with other Continental cattle we performance recorded registered bull, then they will have had previously accessed. In fact they’ve out performed any the tools to hand as far as his EBV data is concerned. In other crosses we’ve ever reared before in terms of weight turn, those figures help us make more informed decisions gain combined with grading within the target specification. I on our purchases to select the cattle with the highest potenalso believe that performance was enhanced by the fact tial performance and in turn, the highest margins.” Good Temperament
SELECTING BULLS FOR BETTER RETURNS Influencing market price is out of the majority of beef producers’ reach, however they do have tools to hand to reduce costs and improve their unit’s efficiency and ultimately its sustainability in the run up to 2012.
Iain Campbell is among those who knows first hand that introducing homebred high genetic merit bulls to his 100 cow suckler herd is improving its calves’ performance, and ultimately their profitability. “We use Charolais bulls bred from genetics that we very carefully select from within the breed’s top 10% using Estimated Breeding Values. While there maybe some cynics around who dispute the data, I believe it really does work in providing a back up to a bull’s looks. The figures offer an accurate indication of what to expect from his calves,” he says. “For example, we’re currently finishing virtually all our steers and heifers to 600kgs target liveweight within 18 months and trade them through the ring at C&D Dumfries to repeat buyers, apart from a handful we pick out for the spring Continental cross calf show at Borderway mart,” Iain explains. “However, we’re aware that our Charolais crosses have the genetic potential to grow even faster earlier and we plan to finish our next crop of calves to the same weight from 14 months. “A beast’s performance efficiency reduces as it gets older, heavier, and fatter, and its feed conversion ratio falls. So we plan to start creep feeding our spring born calves three to four months before we wean them while that performance efficiency is at its best, and we have the accommodation to house them from early October. “We’ve worked things out and the figures stack up. Also the faster we get these calves away, the more grassland we’ll have for silage, and overall there’ll be less work,” explains Ian who manages Allerbeck Farm, near Eaglesfield and employs one man to help run the 250 acre mainly grassland unit which he believes is now stocked to capacity. In the last four years since Iain was appointed farm manager, the commercial suckler herd has doubled to 100 cows. Furthermore, the unit carries the Swalesmoor pedigree Charolais herd which has expanded three fold to 40 breeding cows and followers, while it also supports a complementary 70 ewe commercial flock and buys in up to 450 hoggs to over winter. Apart from using Estimated Breeding Values for growth rate when selecting a bull, Calving Ease is also taken to account. “If we use a bull with a Calving Ease value of average or above, it really does ensure his calves don’t grow too big inside the cow; we make sure the cows are fit but not fat, and we don’t have any calving issues. They calve at 280 days, they’re lively and soon up and away,” Iain explains. “These calves also have good temperament – they’re quiet and easy to handle which is really important when I’ve only got one man to help out.” Allerbeck’s commercial beef enterprise provides a
shop window for the up and coming pedigree Swalesmoor Charolais herd whose primary objective is to provide bulls for the suckler sector that consistently leave high performance profitable calves suited to low management systems. “We’re confident from our own experience that Charolais is the ultimate terminal sire to breed because its finished progeny can achieve an additional 100kgs liveweight over other same age Continental crosses fed on exactly the same diet. “Secondly, by breeding the best of the breed using genetics from within the top 10%, then we are able to offer bulls that have the potential to have a real impact with other suckler men’s herds.” S w a l e s m o o r ’s targets are for bulls to achieve an average 1.6kg per day within their first 400 days, they have to demonstrate length and shape and they must be good on their legs. “We have built the herd with the addition of Blelack and Givendale lines in an attempt to achieve consistency. We’ve used a lot of Dingle Hoffmeister across those pedigree cows simply because he has had the ability to breed consistently not only within our herd, but across the country and beyond. He also has the figures to match, he’s within the breed’s top 1%.” Three years ago, Swalesmoor invested in Goldies Uppermost, the supreme Perth champion and days leader at 34,000gns. “He is a bull within the breed’s top 10% and he’s throwing those consistent calves with flesh in all the right places,” he explains. Selecting within the breed’s top bloodlines has accelerated the herd’s progress, and Iain says that Breedplan, the society’s new registration and genetic evaluation system service provider is helping him to select more easily for specific traits. “We’re currently on target. Our latest crop of performance recorded young bulls were all within the breed’s 10%.” Furthermore, the hard work is paying off. Last month, Swalesmoor offered four bulls in Perth, each selling to average around the 4,000gns mark, a figure that reflects the herd’s commercial target. “Driving down costs and improving efficiency to maintain a sustainable beef farming business will remain key well into the foreseeable future,” Iain adds. “We believe we have a solution here in Charolais, and we can vouch for that fact having tried and successfully tested the terminal sire on our own unit.” Pictured: Ian Campbell with a selection of Charolais sired store cattle www.charolais.co.uk
EXPLOITING GENETIC POTENTIAL FOR MAXIMUM RETURNS
Swapping global warming for global food crisis at the top of the news agenda has aroused a degree of optimism among livestock farmers, including Alastair Nixon who currently finishes 150 head of Charolais cross cattle a year.
Global influences have led to a hike in market prices for beef in the last few weeks, a trend that is none other but welcome, says Alastair Nixon. “I believe we’re on the cusp of change and after being ignored by government for more than 10 years, politicians are beginning to recognise our role, not only as managers of the environment, but also as food producers. “As exporting beef countries seek to secure their own food supplies, there could in future be a greater opportunity for us to fill the shelves which would put a new bottom in the marketplace,” says Mr Nixon, who farms Swinhoe, 1,300 acre mixed holding near Belford, Northumberland in partnership with his wife, Valerie and parents, Martin and Helen, while daughter, Claire manages Swinhoe Farm Riding Centre. “In the meantime however, we have a number of issues to address which evolve around escalating feed, fertiliser and energy costs, and ultimately, succession.” Swinhoe Farm carries a 600 ewe flock complemented by a herd of 150 suckler cows, with two thirds spring calving and the remainder autumn. As far as the beef enterprise is concerned, the Nixons are focused on exploiting its potential. For 25 years, Charolais has been used as the herd’s terminal sire over their continental cross cows and heifers, and nowadays these bulls are selected from within the breed’s top 10% on performance data. Both bulls and replacement heifers are sourced from herds of known disease status. “We finish our Charolais cross steers at an average 20 months and 380kg deadweight, and heifers, 320kg deadweight at 18 months. We’ve found they leave a margin higher than any of the other Continental terminal sires we’ve used, simply because they achieve greater weight for age, an average 50kg more, and the vast majority grade in R4L bracket or better,” he explains. “Furthermore, using Charolais as a terminal sire has not incurred many calving difficulties, unlike those we’ve experienced using other Continental bulls. The calves are lively and soon up and away suckling. We also rate their temperament – they’re quiet to handle which is a bonus as labour becomes increasingly scarce. “In addition, the cattle tend to grow uniformly, so when it comes to marketing we are able to batch them up easily, and they’re accompanied by that characteristic Europe’s No 1 Beef Breed
colour hallmark.” All cattle born and reared at Swinhoe have been taken through to finishing using home grown feed fed in a total mixed ration based on grass silage and cereals. “It’s a strategy we’ve firmly believed in - it cuts out the extra hauls to market and back, the market commission and the accompanying stress on the beasts,” he says. “However, escalating feed, fertiliser and energy costs are forcing us to reconsider our marketing strategy. We need an absolute minimum of £3.50/kg deadweight, just to cover costs, never mind any surplus for reinvestment in accommodation, or new equipment. “Finished cattle prices are well over the 130p/kg liveweight mark in the local ring, around the same figure we received in 1996 when grain was trading at £100/tonne, and fertiliser price has increased three fold in the last 18 months. “So, we have one or two options. The last couple of years has seen a strong store market prompting us to consider selling our cattle at an average 12 months, which would in turn enable us to stock more cows; alternatively we could introduce a more extensive stocking r e g i m e enabling us to cut back on fertiliser. We have recently taken on another 150 acres of grassland which would enable us to half our current stocking rate to one cow per two acres,” Mr Nixon explains. The future of the beef enterprise at both Swinhoe and for the industry at large is dependent on two major factors, he says. “Firstly on the marketplace; without any guaranteed payments after 2012, we will have to receive a major price rise, just to cover production costs. “Secondly, the next generation; our knowledge base is fast disappearing; there are very few young people who have the specialist skills and knowledge to rear live stock properly, and with the average age of farmers standing at 57 years, something desperately needs to happen in the next five to 10 years to ensure succession of the livestock industry.” Pictured: Alastair Nixon looks forward to a brighter future with his Charolais sired cattle
MAXIMISING PERFORMANCE POTENTIAL Northern Ireland beef producers are reaping the rewards from investing in high genetic merit bulls thanks to the European funded Beef Quality Initiative, managed by DARD, which has recently come to the end of its five year duration. For example, calves sired by a Charolais bull within the breed’s top 1% for growth and muscle EBVs, compared with an average bull, are producing progeny that reach target weight more than 10 weeks earlier and their improved carcase value worth is worth an extra 15% in value. “Influencing market price continues beyond most beef producers’ reach. However one thing they all have in common is the opportunity to acquire high genetic merit bulls to improve their suckled calves’ performance, and ultimately their profitability,” explains DARD’s Kieran Mailey. “Selecting a bull on performance figures is a guaranteed means of helping to achieve that goal, and in Northern Ireland, producers have been fortunate to have the opportunity of BQI support.” More than 900 farmers have bought a bull through BQI, which offered 50% funding on a superior bull within the breed’s top 25% for muscle depth, muscle score or milk EBVs; and 50% funding of an elite bull, one within the top breed’s top 1% for the same traits. Farmers using these high genetic merit bulls also had access to support for their progeny’s recording fees, embryo transfer and weight recording. A further 2,000 producers have completed BQI’s Cattle Breed Improvement Learning Programme which explained performance recording and the role of EBVs. DARD’s recent survey to evaluate the impact of BQI
among the buyers concluded that they were recognising the value of high genetic merit sires; 88% of respondees stating they would buy another elite or superior bull. Charolais was the most popular breed making up 48% of total purchases, while superior carcase was the most frequent bull type purchased accounting for 56% of the total, reports Mr Mailey. “Superior bulls averaged £1,906 and elite bulls, £5,877, figures that indicate despite the financial assistance, market prices did not become over inflated as producers were prepared to purchase only the right bulls for their herds,” he says. “Escalating cereal prices and other variable costs have brought into sharper focus the importance of EBVs for 400 day growth, muscle depth and eye muscle area together with feed efficiency. Producers should be selecting bulls with high 400 day growth rates as they will leave cattle that reach slaughter weights earlier and require less concentrate feeding. “Take for example, calves from Greenmount College’s suckler herd sired by a Charolais bull within the
Stephen Heenan with one of his high performance Charolais stock bulls Europe’s No 1 Beef Breed
Using high genetic merit bulls breed’s top 1% for growth and muscle EBVs left progeny that reached target weight 74 days earlier than those sired by an average Charolais bull; they weighed an average 29kgs deadweight heavier and graded in a higher specification; the overall result was in an improved carcase value worth an additional 15%.”
DARD’s Kieran Mailey Among the NI suckler producers who are realising the benefits of investing in a high genetic merit bull are Stephen Heenan and Tony Griffith, both farming in County Down. Stephen Heenan’s key objective is to maximise output, efficiently from the 100 cow suckler herd he runs on his 200 acre unit based at Clough. As far as damline is concerned, his key selection criteria are milk yield, longevity, health and good fertility and the herd comprises a mix of quality home bred heifers and west of Ireland cows. Charolais is Stephen’s preferred choice of terminal sire. “Liveweight gain, carcase weight and conformation is difficult to achieve with other breeds on grass,” he says. “Our cattle’s performance has been even more impressive since we secured Balthayock Viceroy, a Dingle www.charolais.co.uk
Hoffmeister son, and with EBVs in the breed’s top 1% for muscle and top 5% for growth.” In 2006, the average carcase weight for steers was 372kg at 24 months with an average daily liveweight gain of 0.94kg per day from birth to slaughter. Heifers were achieving 320kg carcase weight at approximately 21 months, while young bulls averaged 360kg at 14 months. “One of the first things I noticed about Viceroy’s calves was their length and width, also their weight for age was high,” he explains. “Steers sold last autumn at 16 months averaged 1.12kg per day. In addition, one of the most pleasing aspects of Viceroy is his ease of calving. We’ve rarely had to intervene at calving time and that’s a real bonus. Not only has it allowed me to get on with the rest of the farm work, but I also do contract work and can be off farm safe in the knowledge that there will be live calves when I arrive home.” Tony Griffith farms on the Saintfield House Estate, Saintfield, a unit carrying 300 ewes and 65 suckler cows with progeny usually finished to target weight. Realising the benefits of using a high genetic metric bull to increase liveweight gain and ultimately, carcase weight, Tony invested in Rowandale Upton, an Oldstone Egbert grandson, and within the breed’s top 25%. “Since introducing Upton, our growth rates have noticeably increased. In 2006, Upton’s calves were averaging 1.10kg per day over their first 16 weeks compared with 0.98kg per day for the calves sired by our other stock bull,” he explains. “The trend continued last year with his calves averaging 1.43kg per day over the same period, compared with the others at an average 1.3kg per day.” Saintfield House Estate has been gradually expanding cow numbers with quality continental crosses and placed emphasis on selecting for fertility, temperament and milk. “Our replacement heifers have been sourced off-farm, however last year, we retained a selection of Rowandale Upton’s heifers simply due to the quality of stock that he is breeding. The bull has a milk EBV in the breed’s top 25%, so those maternal genetics are also being bred into the heifers, and we think they have real potential as our herd’s future.” Kieran Mailey adds: “Both these men know what they want their suckler enterprises to deliver and have the necessary management skills required in achieving. It takes excellent stock management, efficient use of farm resources and quality cattle to get results. Stephen and Tony are also realising the benefits of using a top performance recorded Charolais bull and this can be clearly seen in the cattle they produce.”
DO COMMERCIAL BULL BUYERS USE BREEDPLAN DATA? We asked a random selection of suckler men at the February Perth bulls sales what are their main criteria when choosing Charolais as their herd’s terminal sire. While it came as no surprise that good conformation and locomotion headed their list, they unanimously indicated that introducing Breedplan data was now an essential part of the selection process. Despite some initial caution, these men are realising that using Estimated Breeding Values is enabling them to identify bulls of superior genetic merit that will leave progeny which are easy to calve and demonstrate higher performance. That means less labour and fewer days to target sale weight, or alternatively heavier weights achieved within the traditional sale period. Whatever your system, introducing Breedplan data to your Charolais bull selection criteria takes the uncertainty out of choosing a new sire and provides real opportunity to improve your returns.
Scott McKinnon, Moniave, Dumfries: 500 cows “Muscle and shape, good locomotion, and nowadays their good looks must be underpinned by Breedplan figures; they must be within the breed’s top 10% for growth rate and ease of calving.”
Mark Ross, Gorebridge, Midlothian: 330 cows “Length for maximum sirloin and weight, a good back end for extra muscle, locomotion and his figures, they’re an important guide.”
Andrew Bell, Pennan, Fraserburgh: 120 cows “Masculine appearance, conformation, well balanced and not too big a frame for ease of calving reasons and Breedplan figures. We are just beginning to use the Breedplan data in particular for ease of calving and we’re finding that it is working.”
Ronald Smith, Aboyne, Aberdeen: 240 cows “Conformation in particular with good wide hind quarters, size, length, a good head with good big ears, and good Breedplan figures, in particular for weight gain and calving ease.”
Raymond McKinnon, Dumfries: 600 cows “Good muscle, mobility and feet, and Breedplan for growth rate and ease of calving – everything we look at has to be in the breed’s top 10% figures, they really do help as a back up tool.”
Andrew Hamilton, Thornhill: 150 cows “The bull has to catch my eye. He has to have shape – good conformation, mobility, be true to breed type and finally, his accompanying Breedplan figures are important to back my judgement.”
Published on Jan 19, 2010