April 30, 2014 Commercial producers return to Charolais – more kilos per cow, higher returns

Steven Crabtree is among an increasing number of commercial producers who are returning to Charolais. How come? Quite simply, he is finding that modern British Charolais is able to deliver more kilos per cow and subsequently higher returns to the family’s 120 cow suckler herd.

Steven and Simon Crabtree with some of their latest born Charolais cross calves

Steven and Simon Crabtree with some of their latest born Charolais cross calves

Swapping other Continental terminal sire breeds for Charolais is increasing output by an average 70kg per eight month old weaned calf, which will equate to approximately £160.00 per head.

“We are currently in year three of using Charolais. We had been under the illusion that producing high value show calves was the way forward, however the herd was experiencing too many caesareans which had a subsequent impact on cow health, welfare and overall margins, and after five or six years we came to the conclusion it was not a sustainable system,” Mr Crabtree explains.

“We decided to return to a solid commercial strategy featuring high growth rates in order to maximise the number of kilos per cow managed on a forage based diet. We agreed Charolais was the breed to introduce and we selected our first bull on ease of calving and growth rate EBVs.

“At the time, I didn’t have a lot of faith in EBVs, however our son, Simon indicated they were the way forward in helping to select more accurately for specific traits, and I’ve got to admit that I’m now sold on the idea. Our second Charolais bull purchased this year was selected within the breed’s top 1% for key performance traits.

“To establish what levels of performance are being achieved, we’re measuring growth rates at weaning, and at slaughter or despatch from the unit. It’s becoming an essential jobt that fits in to the busy workload.”

The Crabtrees wean the entire crop of calves at eight months;  Charolais cross
bulls are averaging 370kg and taken through to finishing at 12 months to average 350kg deadweight and within the required specification, whilst the heifers are averaging 320kg at weaning. Last season they were retained on the unit for two months before selling privately to a finisher. Eventual plans are to finish the heifers to 340kg target deadweight within 20 months.

“At weaning our Charolais cross calves are consistently averaging an extra 70kgs liveweight per head over our other same age Continental cross calves, which has prompted me to question the key to profitability. I’d previously held on to the fact it was determined by conformation, fat class and so on, however breeding and rearing Charolais cross cattle has prompted me to revise profitability as being heavily influenced by number of days to slaughter. We are also great believers in using as a benchmark, calf weight at weaning which should be 60% of mature cow body weight.

“Our crops of Charolais cross calves are hitting target weights quicker proving they have faster feed conversion rates, and a faster turnover means a better cash flow accompanied by reduced inputs – both fixed and variable,” he says adding “We have tried all manner of breeds in the past, however we now feel much better placed with Charolais than any other breed.”

Fact   fileSteven   and Ann CrabtreeBolton   Abbey Park Farm, Bolton Abbey, Skipton


750   acre LFA unit

900   ewes

120   Continental cross suckler cows

  •   Spring / summer split calving herd
  •   Average 98% calves reared
  •   70% calving within the first six weeks


Categories: Commercial, News

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