The Meonhill herd, owned by Syd and Mary Chaplin from Hambledon in Hampshire, has been recognised by AHDB Beef & Lamb as the Most Improved Herd of Beef Shorthorn cattle in England for 2015.
The award is presented by the AHDB Beef & Lamb Better Returns Programme (BRP) to the recorded herd that shows the greatest genetic gain for commercial characteristics over a 12-month period. There is a separate award for each of 10 UK breeds.
Establishing their pedigree herd
Being relatively new to cattle farming, Syd and Mary Chaplin believe they have benefited greatly from having performance recording figures, obtained by weighing and scanning cattle, to help their breeding decisions.
They moved to their 87 hectare (215 acre) farm in Hampshire in 2004, having previously farmed Texel sheep in Surrey. “The farm is our retirement project and it was our initial farm manager, Simon Bradley-Farmer, who introduced Beef Shorthorns to the farm. Our present manager is John Goodridge Reynolds, who is assisted by Mary Reynolds, with myself, Syd and Jill Webb making up the rest of the team. All have been vital in the herd’s success,” says Mary.
“Beef Shorthorns were chosen because they are a hardy, native breed which would thrive on the farm, which is 900 feet above sea level, with frequent strong winds. The choice has suited the farm well.”
They initially bought 12 breeding females in 2004, with many coming from the Chapleton herd. Now the high health status herd has 32 breeding females and, with progeny, they have 80 cattle in total.
They started performance recording their cattle in 2008, being familiar with the protocol through experience with their pedigree Meon Hill Texel flock. Syd’s work as an engineer gave him an interest in figures, however they felt they were on a steep learning curve at the time because they were new to cattle farming. “Recording has been a very useful tool to help us breed good stock, but we do also consider the animal itself and its bloodlines too,” says Mary.
John and Syd can pick out four main female bloodlines which have performed well on the farm and the information they now have about these lines is supported with Estimated Breeding Values (EBVs). They believe all EBVs have some relevance, so they look at them all to try to improve them. But for young heifers the most important are the Milk EBV and Calving Ease and for cows, they look for positive Growth and Muscle EBVs.
Top sires selected
The first stock bull on the farm, Chapelton Winsome, has helped the herd’s figures. “He was a top bull with an index in the top five per cent for the breed and has had an enormous impact,” says Mary. “Then using Chapleton Covenantor, who also had good figures, and imported semen on Winsome heifers has given us some amazing stock. We have also sourced semen targeting specific breeding traits for use with Artificial Insemination (AI) in order to promote certain EBVs within the herd.”
One of Covenantor’s progeny was Meonhill Fire Fox, who was bought by Cogent as an AI sire. “He scanned amazingly,” says Syd. “Fire Fox was in the top one per cent of the breed for the Terminal Sire Index and Self-Replacing Index, which resulted from top five per cent growth rate EBVs, a top one per cent eye muscle score and a positive Milk EBV.”
The farm’s most recent bull, Elliot Danny Boy, was unknown to the UK recording system but was introduced to the farm based on his imported Canadian bloodlines. “The UK gene pool for Shorthorns make sourcing an unrelated stock bull, with good figures and a high health status a challenge,” says Syd.
New stock bulls are the only new animals coming onto the farm, as it is a closed herd for females to maintain a high health status.
Bulls that do not meet their criteria for breeding are sold fat, with their Farm Assured status and the Chaplins have developed a good market demand locally for them. Using the best possible genetics their objective is to deliver optimum carcase classification for their finished cattle.
The highest-quality pedigree bulls bred at Meonhill go to the breed’s national sale in Scotland. Others have been sold from the farm, with contacts made at shows. The Meonhill team attend three south east shows, as well at the National Beef Shorthorn Show at the Great Yorkshire Show.
“We have always enjoyed showing, before with the Texel sheep and now with the Shorthorns,” says Mary. “Our most recent successes include the Junior Interbreed Champion with our heifer Meonhill Pixie at the South of England Show.
“Our plan for the future is to keep enjoying farming and enjoying showing, but it has to pay its way.”