Commercial producers up and down the country are introducing Beef Shorthorn not only to complement their suckler herd’s Continental genetics but also to enable them to manage a closed herd. We talked to two of them.
After years of depending on replacements from the dairy herd, Shropshire producer, Ian Mainwaring and his herd manager, Chris Wright have introduced a new strategy and are finding the solution in Beef Shorthorn to develop their own functional suckler herd.
“We initially sourced Hereford crosses and then Limousin crosses until both quality and quantity became an issue as the Holstein influence took a hold. We also found the Continental crosses were becoming too soft,” explains Ian who runs Oteley, a 1,600 acre mixed unit based at Ellesmere carrying a split calved 350 suckler cow herd and with all progeny reared to target finishing weight.
“I’d been observing how Beef Shorthorn had been tried and tested in herds for decades, and so the breed came in to the picture here as having the potential to introduce hybrid vigour. The breed was larger framed and offered the maternal traits we were looking for, along with longevity. We also had the opportunity at the time to acquire more land which provided a new base to develop a closed herd and subsequently minimise disease risk.
“Five years ago we introduced a Beef Shorthorn bull selected for this size, shape and scale and accompanying Breedplan data – he had the highest 400 day weight EBV in the catalogue. We initially used him over 35 Limousin cross cows and rest is history.
“We’ve since introduced a breeding programme to establish a 150 cow herd of Beef Shorthorn cross Limousin crosses while Limousin remains the terminal sire. Already these hybrid females are proving to be hardier - the spring calvers can stand being outwintered on silage and stubble turnips or kale.”
Chris Wright explains: “These females are very good at calving themselves, their milk hasn’t been compromised, they are proving to be good mothers and new dropped calves are thrifty - they have that will to get up and go which is a real bonus. We target one calf per cow, and we’re achieving 95% calves reared from cows put to the bull.
What’s more we’re finding they are certainly not as quick tempered as the Limousin crosses which is another bonus.”
Bull calves are weaned at six months and introduced to an ad lib barley based 13%CP diet which is fed through to 580kg to 600kg target finishing weight at an average 13.5 months. “Those bulls carrying the Beef Shorthorn genetics have daily liveweight gains which are matching the Limousin crosses, in fact they’re finishing slightly heavier,” says Chris. “We sell through the ring at Market Drayton to repeat buyers and consistently arrive within the day’s top 5% of prices.”
Beef Shorthorn cross heifer are weaned at 10 months and introduced to a forage based TMR to grow to target 500kgs at first breeding at 17 months. “The vast majority of heifers are retained as replacements and in 2013 we introduced an AI breeding programme for management purposes and to increase the choice and number of bloodlines used over the herd. The decision demonstrates our commitment to the breed for now and the future.”
Adrian Ivory farms 150 suckler cows along with pedigree Charolais and Simmental herds on 2,285 mixed acres at Strathisla Farms, Moolies, Meigle, Perthshire.
“Our objective is simple, to run a profitable suckler enterprise, which includes finishing the bulls as quickly as possible, while the top 25 heifers are retained annually as replacements and the remainder sold as recipients.
“We had established a South Devon cross Simmental herd, however we want to introduce some hybrid vigour to complement those existing genetics and we weighed up Beef Shorthorn to be the best option,” he explains.
“The breed had the characteristics to deliver a well-balanced, fertile, milky female that was docile and yet wasn’t going to grow in to a massive cow which would be costly to keep. We accepted the fact we may have to take a step backwards in terms of growth, however that has not been the case.” Strathisla bulls are finishing to 380kgs target deadweight within 12.5 months with over 80% grading within the U specification.”
Adrian introduced the first Beef Shorthorn bull to Strathisla in 2007 to essentially produce what he terms his own Stabiliser – a Beef Shorthorn, South Devon Simmental composite. The blend has been a success. “We’ve bred very fertile females with 70% calving within the first three weeks, they’re easily calved, milky, very docile and we aim to wean from 90% of cow put to the bull. In 2013, 94% were PD’d in calf.
“We’re able to calve these heifers at two years. They’re reaching breeding at 13 months and 400kg to 440kg – that’s approximately 65% of adult weight. There’s always room for tweaking to improve performance, and in future, I’d like to focus on selecting Beef Shorthorn to further improve that hybrid vigour and at the same time breed a slightly smaller female.”