May 1, 2018 Charolais AHDB Live to Dead demonstration
On the 7th March we held our first L2D demonstration courtesy of AHDB and Dunbia Sawley, it was a practical and educational event which allowed members to handle live animals and make assessment of fat cover, conformation using the EUROP grid and carcase weight.
Sue and Steve Powdrill AHDB assessing one of the Charolais cross cattle for finish
We then saw the same animals on the hook in the chillers with the actual classification, so we could compare our assessments made whilst the animals were alive.
Assessing the carcase against the live assessment with David Eden from MLCSL.
After reassessing the carcase’s we were shown the cutting room where all the meat is packed and processed for several different retailers, we then walked the line starting at the stunning box and observed all the operation right through to the independent classification carried out by MLCSL and fridges where the carcases are hung, there was also plenty of opportunity to discuss various market requirements, factors affecting killing out percentages and dressing specifications too.
We discussed the EUROP grids advantages, disadvantages and interestingly an R4L now suits approximately 85% of the markets needs, with 56% of the carcase being minced and a higher percentage of the rounds minced.
One of the key messages that came out of the day was that we need to keep our focus on the width, depth and length of loin the high value cuts, its far more important than producing animals with poor loins and large rounds with the rounds being of less value and possibly minced
Some of the key slides from the day
Prime beef selection | Carcase classification grid
The green area is the key target area for demand with the amber and especially the red less so.
Prime beef selection | Understanding cattle and carcases
An R4L now suits 85% of the markets needs
Finishing cattle and the cost to the industry for having over fat cattle, it’s not only an extra cost to the farmers producing fat cattle (and getting penalised for its classification) but a cost to the abattoirs who then must trim the fat off and in some cases valuable joints are having to be minced
On the pictures below, you can see the difference between the two classifications of rib eye with the 5H showing an excess in the Subcutaneous, intramuscular and intermuscular fat levels
One of the things we discussed was the effect of liver fluke to the industry and here we have an infected condemned liver which is full of fluke this not only hits the daily live weight gains of the animals but costs the industry many £1000’s in livers that are not fit to use.
This was another issue which is costing the industry a lot of money here are two silversides which have been damaged from injecting in the wrong area with dirty needles, the conclusion was its better to inject into the neck muscles with new needles from an animal welfare point and spoiling more expensive cuts of meat.
It was an excellent day both in the classroom and in the abattoir Steve and David from AHDB are good down to earth people who understand the industry and its always great to learn something about the industry we all work in.
A big thankyou to Dunbia Sawley for hosting the event and providing a great buffet dinner.
If you fancy coming along, please give the office a call and we’ll put you on the waitinglist.
Photos courtesy of AHDB
March 17, 2018 Charolais continue the upward trend at Dungannon
There was great trade for Charolais at the Northern Ireland Charolais Club sale at Dungannon on Friday 16 March. The sale which had been postponed due to the bad weather at the beginning of the month, saw an 86% clearance, a 9% increase on last year. The 38 bulls averaged £3,285 which was up from last year’s equivalent by £367 for five more sold.
Leading the pack at 5,600gns and 5,000gns respectively were a couple of crackers from Jonathan Crawford, Maghera, Co Derry. The first Coolnaslee Manager, had been tapped out third in his class at the pre-sale show and caught the eye of O Jeffers, Cookstown, Co Tyrone. The August 2016-born Manager is sired by the 10,000gns Carlisle supreme champion Ratoary Ferguson, while his dam is the 30,000gns Dingle Hofmeister daughter Edenhurst Hrh, who was purchased from the Edenhurst dispersal in October 2015 for 8,000gns.
Mr Crawford’s 5,000gns bull was the reserve junior champion Coolnaslee Minto. Minto also boasts an impressive pedigree, being a son of 10,000gns Carlisle intermediate champion and Clogher show intermediate champion Ratoary Icebreaker and the 10,000gns Blelack Babe, who goes back to the 25,000gns Perth supreme champion and Royal Show junior male champion Thrunton Socrates. C Shaw, Carryduff, Belfast was the purchaser of this 15-month-old lad.
Two bulls secured a price of 4,800gns a piece and both came from Harold Stubbs & Alan Burleigh, Crummy, Co Fermanagh, who went on to sell a total of four to average £4,252.50. First up was the reserve supreme and reserve senior champion Derryharney Mustang, a 19-month-old who was the first to be purchased by the pre-sale judge Terry Coghill, on behalf of Mr Patterson, Feltigar, Orkney. The breeding here includes the 10,000gns Perth supreme champion Thrunton Bonjovi and the Balmoral Show supreme champion Goldies Carnival daughter Derryharney Hazel.
The next Stubbs and Burleigh consignment which also secured a 4,800gns bid was the class winning, September 2016-born Derryharney Muncher. Muncher who is sired by the proven high performing, short gestation and easy calving Blelack Digger is out of Derryharney Jazzystar, who in turn is sired by the Fintona male champion Derryharney Happyharry. He heads on to Stranocum, Co Antrim, to work for John McHenry.
J Smith, Randalstown, Co Antrim, was the next to snap up one of the Stubbs and Burleigh lots. The 18-month old Derryharney Mrmotivator, a son of the 22,000gns Newhouse Bigal and Thrunton Bonjovi daughter Derryharney Ipad, secured a bid of 3,600gns.
Selling in a 4,400gns deal to ED Sherrard, Belfast, Co Down, was a blue ticket winner from Will Short, Beragh, Co Tyrone. Woodpark Mcbeth is a November 2016-born son of the 14,000gns Goldies Usher
and Woodpark Idele, a daughter of the 9,500gns Stirling reserve senior champion Woodpark Gregg.
After his earlier purchase of the reserve champion, pre-sale show Judge Terry Coghill was again prepared to back up his judgement when he purchased the supreme champion Carrgene Muckian on behalf of Mr Featter, Westray, Orkney. An August 2016-born son of the Irish-bred Crossmolina Euro and the homebred Carrgene Gemma, a Major daughter, Muckian had also been awarded the overall male championship and senior male champion rosettes earlier in the day and secured a 4,200gns bid for breeder and consigner Eugene Muckian, Silverbridge, Co Down.
Next in the trade stakes at 3,700gns was the 16-month-old Dartonhall Milan, who is sired by the 12,000gns Maerdy Fiend. An entry from John Erskine, Killylea, Co Armagh, Milan’s dam is the 7,000gns Stirling female champion Vexour Galina, who goes back to the 30,000gns Dingle Hofmeister, he was purchased by J Martin, Staramore, Co Armagh.
Just behind at 3,600gns was an entry from Balfour Brothers, Bellanaleck, Co Fermanagh, who was purchased by ST Scott, Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh. The October 2016-born Clonatrig Max is sired by Doonally New and out of Blelack Digger daughter Clonatrig Ida.
Two bulls were knocked down at 3,500gns a piece with the first coming from Vincent Cunningham, Dromore, Co Down. Class winner Cunnsallagh Macduff is by the well-known AI sire Indurain, while the dam is Cunnsallagh Edna, a cow by the Balmoral Show M&S Beef interbreed winner Sandelford Bergkamp. The 20-month-old Macduff goes home to work in Stewartstown, Co Tyrone for K Watters.
Matching the 3,500gns price tag was the September 2016-born Killadeas Magna, who was tapped out second in his class, for breeders and exhibitors Stuart and David Bothwell, Ballina Mallard, Co Fermanagh. A Hillan, Broughshane, Co Antrim, was the man who forked out the cash for this son of the 16,000gns Stirling supreme champion Blackford Dynamite and Killadeas Bea, a daughter of the Omagh Show supreme champion and Royal Ulster Show reserve supreme champion Derrygiff Mills.
Following on at 3,400gns was Moorlough Marco. G Cutler of Florencecourt, was the successful bidder of this yellow-ticket winner and took him home to his Co Fermanagh-based unit. This 15-month-old lad from John McBride, Strabane, Co Tyrone, is by the 10,000gns Portadown supreme champion Moorlough Palo, while the dam is the Doonally New-sired Moorlough Hannah.
Another from John McBride was the first to secure the next highest price of 3,200gns. Moorlough Mecca, a 16-month-old, sired by the 12,000gns Maerdy Fiend and out of Moorlough Isla, who goes back to the 16,000gns Stirling junior champion and Caithness Show supreme champion Clyth Diplomat, was purchased by George Ewart, Killylea, Co Armagh.
The second to be knocked down at 3,200gns was a yellow-ticket winning entry from the aforementioned Will Short. Woodpark Minstrel, a 21-month-old who was purchased by S Campbell, Bellaghy, Co Derry, is a 2007-born son of the 19,000gns Doune and Dunblane champion Corrie Alan bred out of Woodpark Guinevere, a Begonia daughter.
A trio of bulls sold for the next highest price of 3,100gns and the first was Tullyconnaught Mel. The breeding here includes the 18,000gns Thrunton Fairfax on to the home-bred Tullyconnaught Daisy, who goes back to the 15,000gns Carlisle supreme champion Burradon Talisman. The September 2016-born Mel was another purchased by judge Terry Coghill, this time for Mr Ritch, Sandwick, Orkney from Mr James Pyers, Corbet, Co Down.
Also hitting the 3,100gns price tag was William Whyte’s Innisrush Magic from Portglenone, Co Antrim. Another Blelack Digger son this time out of Innisrush Gem, a daughter of the 55,000gns Balmoral Show interbreed champion Sportsmans Columbo, this September 2016-born lad caught the eye of Michael Mullin, Dungannon, Co Tyrone.
Another to secure 3,100gns when knocked down to Michael Quinn, Cookstown, Co Tyrone, was the 16-month-old Glenramble Mark, an entry from Thomas O’Neill, Claudy, Co Derry. Mark is sired by the 12,000gns Carlisle reserve senior champion Wesley Equinox, while the dam is the Dromiskin Viceroy-sired Glenramble Honey.
Another trio secured matching price tags, this time at 3,000gns a piece. Derryharney Murray from the above-mentioned Harold Stubbs and grandson Alan Burleigh was the first, and was purchased by G Campbell, Dungannon, Co Tyrone. Murray is bred from Thrunton Bonjovi daughter Derryharney Imlucky, sired by Goldies Eddy and was 17-month-old on the day of sale.
The second 3,000gns bull was the October 2016-born Drumacritten Marcus, who goes home to work in Downpatrick, Co Down, for his new owner C Montgomery. Marcus is sired by the 16,000gns Stirling junior champion and Caithness Show supreme champion Clyth Diplomat, is out of Drumacritten Angel, a Lisnalurg Ignot daughter and secured a yellow rosette for vendor George Nelson, Rosslea, Co Fermanagh.
Matching the 3,000gns price tag was a class winner from the O’Kane Bros of Lower Ovill, Co Derry. Ovill Mahon who is a 16-month-old lad out of the 55,000gns Balmoral Show interbreed champion Sportsmans Columbo daughter Ovill Gwynne, and sired by the home-bred Ovill Instant went home with an undisclosed bidder.
The female section was topped by the female champion at 3,100gns. The 21-month-old Brogher Mygirl from Mr T Phair, Bellanaleck, Co Fermanagh was purchased by Andrew Dunne, Kinawley, Co Fermanagh, for his 2014-established Charolais herd. Mygirl is another sired by Blelack Digger and out of the Lyonsdemesne Tzar daughter Brogher Fancygirl.
Averages 38 bulls £3,285, 2 heifers £2,250
Auctioneers: Dungannon Farmers Mart
Sponsor: Danske Bank
Judge: Terry Coghill, Birsay, Orkney
March 10, 2018 Modern Charolais meets market demands
With hard work, and a commitment to producing quality home grown meat, the Blyth family from Hartlepool has seen demand for their beef and lamb though their butcher’s shops grow year on year. We talk to them to find out the secret behind their success.
Neil Blyth, is part of a family enterprise that currently runs two successful butcher’s shops in Hartlepool as well as a 500-acre beef, sheep and arable enterprise at Middleton House Farm.
“There’s no secret to our success,” says Neil. “Dad started with his first shop in the 1980’s, and it’s been a lot of hard work to get where we are today. To succeed, we’ve needed to be aware of what our customers want, and we’ve changed our farming methods to meet these. Obviously, we’re in a position where we have an integrated business, and this gives us valuable insight into our end consumer as well as an opportunity to adapt to ensure market demand.
“It’s been an important selling point, and a principle of our business, to produce the beef and lamb that we sell. That way we have the control over the product. We’ve built our business on supplying locally produced, home grown, quality meat.
“We’ve tried different breeds over the years in order to get the most out of a carcase – and supply quality meat to our shops. We need to ensure we have good cover on the carcase to enable us to hang it for up to 28 days. Our aim, as a butchery business, is to use as much of the carcase as possible, from the inexpensive cuts to the high-end sirloin steaks, so quality throughout is vital if we want to meet the needs of all our customers.”
The farm currently produces three to four beef animals a week for their shops and, with changing tastes, Neil has found the modern Charolais to be the best suited for his marketplace.
“The carcase we’re currently producing for our trade is smaller than many years ago, but it makes up for this with its efficiency. These animals are very cost effective from both a farm business perspective, and from shop sales.”
Neil’s cattle are reared on a suckler system, which he believes produces the best meat for the market. “It’s such a natural system, and we strive to produce all the feed on our farm so we’re self-sufficient. This year, we’ve grown about 150 acres of crops – oats, barley, wheat and beans to get some home-grown protein. We’ve also rotated with rye and brassicas to ensure a range of alternative forages extending our grazing season. We feed a TMR throughout the winter months to ensure good growth, and work with a nutritionist to ensure a balanced and nutritious ration.
“We calve 80% of our herd in the spring to utilise grazed grass, and give the cows and calves an environment in which they thrive. The 350-head herd is made up of Charolais, Saler and Simmental crosses, which are put to our homebred Charolais bulls.” Neil AI’s all the heifers, and calves them down at two years old.
“We keep all the resultant calves, and regularly weigh the animals to assess gains and conformation. What’s important, for our business specifically, is ensuring consistency, and we get this with the Charolais.
“We aim to finish the heifers at 320-380kg deadweight, and the steers at 350-400kg deadweight. The impressive thing about these Charolais crosses is their ability to convert feed to growth and the ability to produce a high yielding -quality carcase for the market. Having sufficient cover has become even more crucial for our business, as we’ve recently invested in a dry aging cabinet, where the fat cover is vital to encase the meat for a minimum of 28 days. Without it, the meat would lose its succulence and our sales would suffer.
“From experience I believe the Charolais is suited to many systems, and the modern breed offers farmers an opportunity to produce cost-effective beef for the current marketplace. As a farmer, you want to rear high quality, healthy animals that grow well and sell well – the Charolais does this.
“Looking ahead I’d like to see suckler beef branded in the UK as I feel this offers greater marketing opportunities, and potentially a price premium. The retail trade should recognise different rearing systems, and price accordingly. Suckler beef is reared predominately on a non-intensive grass-based system, and I believe this is what the consumer wants. I think we could see a change in payments – with bonuses for marbling scores, as well as for grades.
“I’m very confident about the future demand for quality UK-produced red meat – we can produce it so efficiently in the UK and to a world class quality,” he concludes. “I believe consumers are becoming more and more aware of the food they eat, and how it’s produced, and that this offers great opportunities for the future.”
The Harman awards were Presented by Society Vice-chairman and award founder Ben Harman at the Stirling sale on Tuesday 20th February, who commented “The Self Replacing Index (SRI) is one of the key measures of genetic progress in British Charolais Cattle, and the Harman awards recognise those herds with the greatest % age improvement in SRI over the previous 12-month period. I am delighted that such well-established herds have won the awards in each region this year, between them, the four herds boast 131 years of experience breeding British Charolais. This demonstrates that the inclusion of performance data can enhance even the most experienced breeders’ businesses.”
“The requirement for accurately recorded performance data is driven by our customers, the commercial beef producers, who recognise the extra value of Charolais sired cattle in the store markets and abattoirs the length and breadth of the UK. Breedplan performance data helps our customers identify the type of Charolais which best suit their needs, this data combined with visual assessment of potential bulls ensures that the crossing men can choose bulls which will give them the maximum return for their enterprises. This in turn ensures that those customers will return time and again to buy Charolais which have been proven in study after study to outperform all other breeds as a terminal sire.”
The overall and Scottish regional winner was the 20-cow-strong, Stirling based Falleninch herd of Andrew Hornall, which showed an improvement of +9.8 on SRI in the past 12 months, ending the year on an average of +41.
The Falleninch herd, which was established in 1973, joined the Breedplan scheme when it was adopted by the society in 2007, recognising the importance recording would have to the improvement of the herd.
Andrew, a 3rd generation Charolais breeder who farms 300 acres of permanent grass across two holdings, grazes 250 commercial cattle per year on a New Zealand-style grass grazing system and the high-quality beef produced supplies his Falleninch Farm butchery business. His main focus is on strong maternal traits which ensures that his Falleninch Herd is a regular and successful exhibitor at shows and sales.
Andrew said “I am really pleased to be awarded the top spot in this great competition, which through its selection process helps to enhance the integrity of the Charolais breed. Our purchase of Fairway Jefferson has helped us achieve our improvement this year and our customers seem to think so to, as his first son sold for 12,000gns at Stirling last week.”
Runners-up were the English regional winners Jeremy, Ala Price, Mia and Ryan Price with a yearly SRI Improvement of +9.3 and a total average of +59 for their Herefordshire herd. The Price’s Oakchurch herd is comprised of 20 cows with females kept as replacements and bulls sold for breeding.
In order to monitor performance, Jeremy started recording as soon as he set up the herd. He says “I find if you enter accurate data, you get useful information back. People always want an idea of what they are buying, and performance recording really helps with that.”
Mr Price focuses on growth rates and says that calving ease is essential with the commercial producer in mind. He says “We aim for cows that give birth unassisted, have a short gestation period, do not suffer losses and produce calves with good growth rates and conformation. At the same time, we are also aiming for a bit more fat depth.”
Heading up the Northern Ireland pack was the Coolnaslee herd of Jonathan Crawford, whose father the late Gilbert Crawford established the Charolais herd in 1993. Managed by Stuart Wilson the Maghera-based unit has shown a twelve-month improvement of +8.2 and their total average is +39.7.
Also joining Breedplan in 2007 Gilbert, who was always keeping an eye out for new opportunities to develop his herd, knew how to push the boundaries, with others benefiting from his experience and also working to keep pace and move with the times.
Jonathan is keen to keep moving with the herds progress and commented “I am very proud to accept this award on behalf of our herd. Breedplan is a great system and it shows our buyers just what their getting when the purchase a Coolnaslee bull. The purchase of the Stirling reserve champion Balthayock Justice has really made a difference to our calving ease figures. He now has 50 progeny on the ground and a calving ease score of +23.4 which puts him in the top 1% for the breed.”
A SRI Improvement of +7.1 and a total average of +39.9 saw Esmor Evans’ Flintshire-based Maerdy herd awarded winners of the Welsh region. The 1973 established herd who recently announced the £25,000 sale of the 18-month-old Maerdy Morwr, also joined Breedplan early on and has moved from strength to strength with their 140-cow pedigree herd based on a 1000ft hill farm.
Esmor said “We have been striving for an improvement in the calving figures which are important to us as breeders and also to our customers, both pedigree and commercial. The influence of Blelack Fabulous, whose four son’s averaged just over £11,000 at Stirling, has help us achieve this improvement in calving ease and his progeny are also scanning well with good muscle area. Our other stock bull, the French-bred Maerdy Gouverneur has also proved to be a very good calver and six of the eight bulls we sold last week were by these two influential sires”.
February 9, 2018 Challenges ahead; time to think about your forward Beef strategy.
By David Mackenzie, Harbro
The press is full of debate about the challenges facing not only the UK as a whole post-Brexit, but specifically the challenges which may arise for UK agriculture once current trade agreements are changed. Without doubt this has the potential to cause great change – some say for the better, whist others fear agriculture could suffer without the EU support mechanisms and tariff protections.
The truth is that nobody knows what the outcome will be, and in the context of climate change and world population growth, perhaps Brexit will not even be the dominant force for change in the years ahead.
With this background how can beef producers possibly know the right way forward for their genetics?
The reality is that the choice of bull made today is a statement of the direction of that beef business for the next number of years. The type of genetics chosen today will in many cases be a key driver towards the sort of beef herd you have in 10 years’ time.
The three pillars of farm performance: Genetics, Nutrition, Management
Looking forward, the recurrent theme which seems to come through in all scenarios seems to be a drive towards greater technical efficiency. Whether it is from a reduction in post–Brexit support, reductions in tariffs which help restrict beef imports to the UK or long-term global demand for nutrients, all roads appear to lead to the conclusion that we need to ‘maximise outputs from given inputs’.
Genetics: Starting at the beginning of the supply chain the single most important factor that determines the profitability of the whole herd, is using the best available genetics. With less labour and time available Breeders are striving towards shorter calving periods and aiming towards more consistency in batch sizes at weaning. Responding to the requirements of the finisher, the aim is to achieve less days to market and more weight off farm at a younger age. With supply chains in many cases becoming more integrated, and with performance data being more readily available, the focus on genetics is going to be stronger than ever. And with farms becoming larger, understanding the role of genetics in whole-chain efficiency will become paramount.
Nutrition: It is absolutely clear that nutrition is key to achieving the potential of genetics. Exciting new science is demonstrating the opportunity to change the way genes are expressed through nutrition, and that this might even be possible before conception! There is clear opportunity for further useful research to be carried out in this area but we should be aware of the scope to improve current efficiency through improved feeding. One of the most striking recent examples has been the improved output of heifers by applying the correct balance of protein and starch at a young age. This has led to significant extra output and value from increased carcass weight.
In the past few years Harbro have worked with producers to improve health through nutrition and as a result we have developed a clear message of getting the rumen right is fundamental to overall health.
Management: The finishing landscape is changing. The pressures being placed on processors for a more efficient supply of uniform, quality product is resulting in much closer collaborations between the large finishers and abattoirs. With a greater focus on a more consistent supply of the appropriate animals, finishers themselves are looking to source more of the ideal animals for their system. These changes will inevitably drive a new focus on management which is likely to lead to more streamlined systems relying on detailed production data.
The beef industry may have much to learn in this regard from the unsubsidised pig and poultry industries which have driven output and efficiency in a large part through tackling variation in production. Eliminating the loss from ‘bottom-third’ performers is possibly the quickest way towards improving efficiency and profitability, and this is where many in the beef industry are focusing their attention.
The reality is that much of this variation can be tackled even before bulling by planning for a tight calving pattern. A more consistent group of calves makes management so much easier, and translates to an easier managed breeding herd as replacements come through. Proper pre-bulling nutrition, bull management and health surveillance set the best foundations for bulling success. Only bulling heifers over a six week period has ensured that only the most fertile animals are joining the herd and this has been a successful improvement to many breeders.
Harbro are investing heavily in supporting a profitable beef industry. We have developed a strategic partnership with Glasgow Vet School to take a lead on understanding the interaction between nutrition, rumen health and performance data. As profit drives our decisions the Charolais breed has always been recognised for delivering a fast growing efficient animal and this is why the breed was brought into the UK industry over 50 years ago and will have an even bigger role to play in the future.
Whilst challenges are undoubtedly ahead it is quite clear that the UK has the farmers, the genetics, the science and the management skills to compete. To do that, however, we need to plan and make the right decisions now.
Picture attached: Alan Meston, Stonehaven Aberdeenshire, a great example of a data driven Beef finisher which has put Charolais at the centre of his business strategy.
January 30, 2018 Polled for profit
It was a fine day last summer when we visited the JordanCastle herd of polled Charolais in Wellow, managed by Sydney Carr and his daughter Laura. Alongside their pure Charolais herd which they run on a commercial basis, they host school visits in their purpose-built education facility and entertain guests in their three holiday cottages set in the idyllic Nottinghamshire countryside.
The education enterprise is the brain child of Laura, who feels strongly about the benefits of teaching children how their food is produced. It was set up in partnership with the Higher Level and now Higher Tier Countryside Stewardship Scheme which enables them to offer free visits to schools. They also offer visits to other organisations whether it be farming or local interest groups.
Sydney is the third generation to farm at Jordan Castle Farm after his grandfather and uncle purchased the farm in 1939 and both he and his daughter Laura were born in the farmhouse. The 270-acre holding consists of 50% grazing and 50% arable which supports the winter feeding needs of the cattle with the remainder sold as milling wheat. The 200 cattle are fed hay and 1kg of barley per day in the winter and when brought in, are kept in their management groups sorted by age with the spring and autumn calvers kept apart.
Charolais cattle are renowned for their good temperament and this herd is a shining example. The Carrs have culled any cattle that show any signs of bad disposition and the result is a herd that are quiet, friendly and easy to manage. This is of paramount importance in this low maintenance system as the main day-to-day work is undertaken by Sydney while Laura is away working during the week. Sydney’s motto is “decent cattle, decent feed, it all comes down to management”.
Easier management was the reason why Sydney was initially drawn to polled Charolais with their reputation for being easier calving. He said, “It has paid off from the start. I have only had to assist one calving in the past year”.
Sydney joined the polled society, as it was then, in 1987 after purchasing his first polled Charolais bull in 1982 from Ralph Needham’s Cockerington herd. These days, the farm’s 75 breeding females produce stores to sell at nearby Newark in the Spring and Autumn, whilst heifers are kept for replacements and pedigree sales. The herd averaged £1100 for their 17-18 month old steers and heifers sold through Newark in 2016. Laura said “When we finish cattle they usually attain a U-grade and average £1250. Currently I am exploring the benefits of selling some of our animals as meat direct to the consumer”.
Stock bulls are selected for style and temperament and their latest addition Cockerington Justice has turned out to be the quietest they have had. There are three bulls running with the herd at present; the homebred JordanCastle Heathcliff and Alwent Impact are also earning their keep. Sydney comments, “We hope to keep one of Heathcliff’s sons for breeding in the future. Unusually we purchased Impact from Steve Nesbitt at just 13-months-old, but he has been a great success. We tend to work our bulls for six years, and bring in fresh bloodlines for our replacements”.
Calving is in the Spring and Autumn and is spread over a few weeks for ease of management. All the herds females were born on farm with the exception of one purchased from the Needhams at the same time as Cockerington Justice. Laura remarked, “Cockerington Jodie was a very nice Christmas present!”
Heifers are calved down at approximately two years nine months and are routinely still calving at 12 years old with the oldest mother this season being 16.
The Carr’s breeding bulls are usually sold at about 20-22 months and Sydney commented “People want to purchase bulls that are ready to work and by that age they can see what they’re getting. We advertise through our website, Sell My Livestock and the Newark Market newsletter. We also have lots of repeat customers who like our easy-calving, good-tempered bulls”.
On the day of our visit, James and his mum Serena Underwood of Gillingham, Dorset were visiting to look at the 22-month-old JordanCastle Lionheart. The Underwoods established their Pennymore herd in March last year, with the purchase of five cows and calves from the Cockerington herd. They obviously liked the look of Lionheart as he subsequently travelled to his new home in Dorset at the end of July. James recently commented “I chose him for his nice nature and good EBV’s. I am just starting out with Charolais and he has proved to be a lovely quiet bull who I move everyday and he has never given me any problems. He’s running with my eleven breeding females at the moment, and the five cows who I put him to first are due to calve in June and July. Working full time, I have chosen to calve in the long days of the summer months. I am looking to put him with some sucklers once he has his first calves on the ground.”
To find out more about the JordanCastle herd, visit their website www.pollcharolais.com or find them on Facebook and Instagram: Jordan Castle Polled Charolais
December 15, 2017 Oakchurch Farm herd wins AHDB Beef & Lamb Progressive Herd award for the Charolais cattle breed
The Oakchurch herd, owned by Jeremy Price from Herefordshire, has been recognised by AHDB Beef & Lamb as the most progressive herd of Charolais cattle based on the herd’s genetic merit and improvement in 2017.
Jeremy’s parents had kept the Charolais breed before which inspired him to set up Oakchurch in 2007. The herd is comprised of 20 cows with females kept as replacements and bulls sold for breeding.
In order to monitor performance, Jeremy started recording as soon as he set up the herd. Jeremy said: “I find if you enter accurate data you get useful information back. We have a good trade for cattle from home and sell privately to herds based on good data. People want an idea of what they are buying and performance recording really helps with that.”
Jeremy focuses on growth rates and says calving ease is essential with the commercial producer in mind. “No commercial farmer wants to be getting out of bed at night to calve a cow. We aim for cows that give birth unassisted, have a short gestation period, don’t suffer losses and produce calves with good growth rates and conformation. We are also aiming for a bit more fat depth.”
Carried out by the breeding company, Jeremy uses artificial insemination (AI) on his cows to out-source genetics to improve certain traits where possible. “At the moment, when choosing bulls, I am focusing on calving ease, growth rates and fat depth,” explains Jeremy. “When it comes to cows, we look at their pedigree, figures, and conformation.”
Over the last 10 years, Jeremy has used Blelack Digger who was a top bull for calving traits. “He really helped move the breed forward and commercial producers love him,” says Jeremy. He now keeps two stock bulls. Balthayock Jupiter has top figures with balanced traits, he has nice conformation, easy calving with a short gestation. “I have just bought Balthayok Marksmen who has good figures and will add fat depth to the cattle. Just over a year ago I imported semen from Palgrove Justice from Australia and used the semen via AI with the aim of producing easy doing cattle with added fat depth. The first calves by him have just been born so it will be interesting to see how they get on,” says Jeremy.
“It’s nice to have won the award for a second time. We want to carry on improving the breed so it is good to see we are still making good progress.”
For more than 30 years Clifthayne Farm at Yarcombe, straddling the counties of Devon and Somerset on the edge of the Blackdown Hills, has been supporting a flying herd of milkers that thrive on the lush grassland that hasn’t seen any artificial fertiliser applied for more than half of that time.
The 430 Holstein Friesian cows graze for as much as the year as possible, with free access to grass or maize silage, and a top-up 20% cake fed to those giving more than 15 litres a day in the parlour. Soya and molasses are added to the mixer wagon before the silage is tipped into double-sided feed troughs in the yard.
But the real financial success of this herd comes from the decision to run 10 pedigree Charolais bulls with the cows – with the natural service resulting in top quality heifer and bull calves that top the sale prices on a regular basis at local Sedgemoor market.
“When my milk price hit rock bottom, at 20ppl, it was the value of the calves that saved me,” says farmer Steve Turner. “It’s probably unusual to use natural service on a herd of this size, but it works perfectly for us.”
Steve and his business partner Diana Turner switched from Simmental to Charolais bulls some years back, and is keen to point out that they’re an ideal cross for the large-framed and lean dairy cows he buys. “I found the Simmental to have a difficult temperament, so moved to the Charolais, and certainly haven’t been disappointed. They have great temperaments and do a great job, returning me excellent market prices.”
He says he selects a bull with good hind conformation, good feet, a smaller head and smaller shoulder for ease of calving. “The Charolais bull has changed a lot over the past 10 years, and today is a more compact animal, with lighter bone, but one that still retains a great meat to bone ratio. Dairy farmers need to look at them as a way of improving overall farm returns – they grow so fast and efficiently and they’re in big demand at market.”
He admits they still carry a bit of ‘stigma’ for difficult calving’s, but maintains that has never been an issue at Clifthayne Farm, and says they no longer deserve this ‘tag’. “Last year I had just three caesareans, and none were due to calving difficulties… all three were because of a twisted uterus.”
He says the calves are big, but maintains you need the popular big Holstein Friesian to serve, and adds that correct management of the dry cow is crucial – ensuring she doesn’t get too fat is key.
The calves are kept on their mothers for the first four weeks, to give them the best start, and then go to market. He sells about 300 a year, five or six a week, and regularly tops the market, with his bull calves currently selling for up to £480-£500 a head, and the heifers going to £360-£380.
“A lot of dairy producers just want their calves gone, but if you use a Charolais bull you have a calf worth really good money that can add to your bottom line. Mine is a simple system and works well, and it’s always good to have a second source of income.”
Steve took over the 350-acre all grass farm when his father died, and while cow numbers were as high as 630 at one stage, he has found his current numbers fit his system well. All milk goes to Dairy Crest at Davidstow, for Cathedral City cheese and a baby formula contract.
The cows are milked through a 36:36 side-by-side parlour, and average yields are around 8000 litres/cow. “My yields are gradually increasing, as I buy heifers with better genetics. But it’s a low cost system, with all the cattle, apart from the dry cows, kept in one group and grazed rotationally around 10 large fields that surround the farm.
“I aim to get them out in the spring as early as possible, and keep them out as late as possible into the winter. All-year-round they have an option to come inside at night.”
Grass grows well at Clifthayne Farm, and for 15 years no artificial fertiliser has been added to the fields. Instead he puts his slurry through a separator and uses a contractor to inject it into the soil. The solids left behind are applied on to local land he rents for growing maize, or given to local farmers who grow maize on his behalf.
“There’s a bit of competition now from AD plants, but there’s plenty of maize grown locally and quite a few people around here have gone out of milk production, so that’s taken up the slack.
“Luckily, I have a lot of clamp space here, I’ve only just started on last year’s maize silage, and always aim to have six months feed in stock so I can buy at the most competitive prices. I don’t want to be dependent on price, so having the stock is like having an insurance policy.”
Steve aims to pay between £400 and £450/acre for standing maize, then sends in a contractor to cut, cart and ensile it.
His herd replacement rate is around 20% a year, with heifers again selected by him and bought at Sedgemoor market. He hasn’t got the buildings to rear his own replacements, and pays around £1200 a head for good second-quality heifers. “I can never afford the best!”
Charolais calves provide him with extra income throughout the year, and he says two calves, plus a barren cow, cover the cost of each new heifer he brings into the herd. “I try to keep the age of the milking herd quite young, and weed out for age, mastitis, bad feet or failure to get into calf. But I would never cull a good cow because she was old.”
Key to his natural service is the involvement of a vet who’s able to do good pregnancy testing. Steve’s vet visits the farm every two weeks and checks every cow that has calved in the last four or five months, providing calving dates for his records.
“I source most of my Charolais bulls from the market too,” he says, “occasionally buying one privately. I think if I worked out the equivalent AI cost I would find natural service a more cost-efficient option.”
This system allows Steve to start at 4am and be finished by 8am, giving him time during the day to enjoy other activities. Son Deane works on the farm, alongside daughter Christina, who milks a couple of times a week, and daughter Rosie who helps with the paperwork. A local girl Kate also helps out with the milking.
“I’m really happy with the way things are going,” he says. “I’m amazed there are not more Charolais bulls being used on dairy cows today – farmers need to look at how the breed has changed. At Sedgemoor there are often only 20 or so Charolais cross calves available, and five or six are mine. They always go for the best prices, and are in big demand.”
Finally, he says that were he to change anything on the farm he would need to employ more labour – perhaps up to two extra staff – and that would have a significant effect on his bottom line.
“You can always make a simple job complicated if you want to…” he adds.
March 15, 2017 Mains of Gallery
The Charolais is the breed of choice of the Gammie family and forms the backbone of its respected suckler and finishing business in Laurencekirk, south of Aberdeen.
The Gammie family made the move from Kingswells on the outskirts of Aberdeen down to Fordoun, Laurencekirk in 1971 where father Ronald and his three sons Norman, Douglas and Alastair now farm four units at Hatton Mains, Mains of Gallery, Davo Mains and Easter Tulloch.
An acreage of 2450 is farmed, with 1100 owned and 1350 farmed under contract. In addition to the 705 acres of grass, a mix of crops is grown including winter barley for feed and this year, field beans will be grown. Wheat and oil seed rape are both sold along with spring barley destined for the malting market.
Mains of Gallery and Davo Mains were best known as dairy farms until the herds were sold in 2002 and 2006 respectively but the suckler herd had been established and cattle finished for a number of years before that.
“We had always finished cattle and set up the finishing unit at Mains of Gallery when we stopped dairying.” says Norman. In the intervening years, the suckler herd has been built up to 400 cows with 150 at Davo Mains and 250 at Easter Tulloch and approximately 1800 head of cattle are finished annually.
Cows are predominantly Simmental or crosses, using Aberdeen Angus or Simmental bulls on heifers. However, the one constant has been the Charolais breed and the business now runs 14 bulls and 90% of calves produced are to the Charolais.
Bulls have their feet checked and trimmed at the end of the year and then receive Harbro Bull Fertility supplement for four weeks before being put to work. Bulls go in with the cows and calves in the last week of March and are kept inside for three weeks.
“We get a much better conception rate because they are not having to chase them round a field. They’ll cover a lot more cows with an 85-100% conception rate first time round” says Douglas.
Bulls come from a number of different bloodlines but one bull in particular, Carscreugh Hernando is readily praised by Alastair as his attributes have shown through well in his calves.
“He is breeding well and has produced good, lengthy calves. He moves well on his feet and is a real stock getter” says Alastair who runs the suckler herd with Douglas.
“His second crop of calves are coming through now. He’s very active and keeps his condition really well” added Alastair. Advocates of the Charolais breed, they all share the view that you cannot beat the breed for carcase weight and speed of growth.
Prior to calving the cows are fed on a ration of silage, draff and Super Suckler SEC minerals with access to ad lib straw. They get extra protein once they have calved, adding some blend and barley to their ration. Access to the same mineral continues over the summer at grass.
The herd is all spring calving beginning in mid-January and this year, two thirds of the cows were calved by mid-February.
“Cows and calves get turned out at the first flush of grass” says Douglas who is based at Davo Mains. “The cows get a flush of milk and by this stage the calves are big enough to take advantage of the increase in milk and are also big enough to nibble at the grass.”
With them being born early in the year, calves are wormed in mid-August and the brothers have seen a big difference in the health of the calves. “Some are bothered with hoast and lungworm which can lead to pneumonia and this practice has helped to reduce stress in our calves” says Douglas.
Calves are creep fed from an early age and right through the summer. “They don’t eat much but it encourages them and they get used to it.”
They move to a rearer ration of 16% protein Beefstock in June at around 4-5 months of age until weaning around 10th October. Stots are weaned first and moved to another farm where they are vaccinated and wormed according to the animal health plan. Heifers are clipped, receive their animal health treatments and are left with their mothers for a further five to six days. Cows are then turned out weather permitting.
Up until 2015, all males were kept entire but last year all male calves were castrated. “Our bulls were finishing at heavier weights so castrating them has been beneficial because of the weight restrictions. The market doesn’t want bull beef and you’d struggle to keep them under 400kg at 12 months.” he added.
“We’ve just sorted out the feeding rations for these stots and it will include Maxammon barley, beans, Harbro blend, draff, silage and Harbro Beefmax minerals with Rumitech and Yea-Sacc” says Douglas.
The heifer ration from weaning to 14 months comprises straw, silage, beans, Harbro blend, Beefmax minerals and barley which has a protein level of 17%. From 14-18 months they go onto a 14% protein feeding ration of straw, barley, potatoes, molasses, Beefmax minerals and Harbro blend.
Once the heifer’s frame has been grown, the diet is adjusted, lowering the protein level and increasing the starch to increase the muscle area and the carcase weight.
A great deal of work is put into the diets, tailoring them to suit the genetics and management of the cattle and the family work very closely with David Mackenzie of Harbro.
Heifers are reaching 680kg at approximately 19 months (580 days), less their birth weight of 40kg, 640kg over 580 days, achieving 1.1kg/day average.
Bulls weigh in at 700kg at approximately 14 months (427 days), less birth weight 40kg, 660kg over 427 days, achieving 1.55kg/day average.
Eldest son Norman runs the finishing unit at Mains of Gallery and he purchases 1300-1400 head of cattle from Thainstone, Inverurie, Quoybrae in Caithness and across the Pentland Firth in Orkney.
Cattle are bought all year round so that there is a constant product with ABP, Perth being their main buyer. “You need to keep going over the summer to be able to get that rise in price” says Norman.
“I’m looking for cattle that have good length and shape with the potential to gain 170kg live weight. I’m buying in at around 500kg, going to 660-720kg in 110 days (looking to put on 1.5kg/day).”
“Of the cattle bought 80-90% are Charolais crosses and 90% are heifers but whether a stot, a bull or a heifer, the Charolais give you the heaviest weight at the youngest ages” says Norman. “It definitely shows in the kill sheets when you put them away.”
March 14, 2017 Peter Phythian joins the Charolais Society
We welcomed Peter Phythian on his first day at the Society today and he is “very much looking forward to meeting members and working with all members up and down the beef chain – breeders, commercial farmers, auction marts, processors and retailers, and to subsequently making a positive difference.”
Peter is pictured here at the recent Stirling Bulls sales with Jemma Forrest and her Champion bull Edenhurst Leader and retiring CEO David Benson.
Peter brings 35 years of experience of working throughout the food chain – from grass roots to retail. He moves to the post from Eurofins where, as business manager he worked with the global company’s feed analysis, genomics, food legal advice and BRC audit divisions.
He began his career on the family’s Lancashire farm managing both pedigree Charolais and commercial cattle. After graduating with a diploma in agriculture, Peter worked with the Meat and Livestock Commission and the European Food Safety Inspection Services before being appointed MLC Commercial Services’ chief executive. He is a member of the Meat Innovation Group and in his spare time likes to watch Wigan Warriors Rugby League.