A breed secretary’s diary…..

Wednesday  16th September 2015

After 10 months of planning a Salers trip to the National Salers Show in Saint Flour, France to see 400 Salers cattle in one place I get a facebook message from a French breeder (thanks Benoit David)…… the show is cancelled!

With total disbelief I frantically try ringing the French Salers Society; no answer… I ring Paul Campbell from Pedigree Tours (who organised the tour from France) who is on the road to Geneva to meet up with John Haskell an American suckler breeder living in Russia. Paul has the same reaction to me; disbelieve! A few moments later after gathering our thoughts we agree…. we shall get more farm visits sorted and carry on, but I need to contact all delegates and advise them of the situation. So instead of packing to travel to Luton for an overnight stay before boarding a plane to Lyon the next morning, I am sat at my desk ringing round explaining to everyone that due to an outbreak of Blue Tongue there is a restriction on the movement of cattle and the Salers National Show is not going ahead. What a shame for all the exhibitors.

Well a few hours later hubby (Andy) and I set off down the M1, phone calls still on going… Bruno Faure (French Society) is confident he and Angelique Lombard can sort visits out for us, Paul is keeping in contact with him, plus we have a few other things in mind!

Thursday 17th September

After an overnight stay near the airport we meet up with one of the delegates in the hotel foyer and set off for the flight to Lyon. I set my place just inside the departure terminal and ticked off everyone as they arrived. Some had flown to Luton, some had driven, taken the train or for those from Wales a coach was organised. Once I knew everyone was present and correct we went through to the departure lounge. It was strange wandering around bumping into them all. One said to me…we are sat here spotting the farmers!

After a short flight we arrived in Lyon to be greeted by Paul Campbell with John Haskell the American from Russia, and our tour bus driver Shalal (who thankfully could speak French and English and was happy to act as an interpreter, thank god!). We all gathered our belongings and marched off in convoy to our chariot for the next few days… a big blue bus!

Some people had been on the go since very early morning so the 3hour drive to our hotel The Garabit, was reasonably quiet with some sleeping and others taking in the beautiful scenery.

My next intake of breath came as we approached the Garabit hotel, first sight was how lovely, then we saw a sign saying the hotel was closed….. we all looked and the coach slowed down…. Shalal then continued down a steep hill to thankfully another Garabit hotel which was open and expecting us! Madame Cellier the proprietor, was grateful for my very broken” Franglais” and we allocated keys together, and then my hubby (who had kept out of the way whilst everyone was getting sorted), placed a very welcome gin and tonic in my hand before we retired to our room to prepare for dinner.

Hotel Garabit overlooking the Garabit Reservoir

Hotel Garabit overlooking the Garabit Reservoir

Dinner was an informal affair and gave everyone a chance to get to know each other. It was pleasing to see people relax, the complimentary wine helped!

Paul and I had a scrabbled meeting, we were waiting for Bruno to get back to us on the additional visits, once we knew what was what we would re-jig the itinerary as needed.

Friday 18th September

At 3am I (sorry we!) were woken by my phone; Bruno had emailed Paul and I with details of the new visits…. I assume my phone had just got a decent signal and Bruno was not emailing me at 3am … he had come up trumps with three extra visits and a trip to a festival in Murat, a mountain village. I was happy, Andy was not and told me to turn my b***** phone off!

I woke early and set about making up presentation bags for our farm visits, I then had a leisurely shower and prepared for the day…. with an hour to go I woke Andy and soon after got a phone call from Shalal asking if I was ready… I then realised that my phone hadn’t changed and was still on British time, then to make matters worse I got a phone call from an unknown mobile so thinking it may be to do with the tour I answered it and it was a UK breeder asking to register an animal! I quickly told him how much his call was costing and that I would ring him on my return and he swiftly ended the call. I boarded the coach to a slow hand clap (won’t be doing that again!).

Our first farm visit was to M. Geraud Trin, Reilhac, North of Aurillac once again lovely scenery, but a very small road to the farm, this was when we realised how good our driver Shalal was; he manipulated the coach with just inches to spare.

Pierre Laceppe, a technician with the French Salers Society, was there to meet us to help with translation etc.. and would be available throughout the tour. M. Trin began by telling us a little about his farming operation, this is where some things may be lost in translation!

M Trins cattle - so quiet

M Trins cattle – so quiet

M.Trin has 3 farms, he doesn’t show animals. He feeds grass and hay summer and winter (no concentrates) his animals are sold for breeding. He regularly sends bulls to the test station. He calves February to April, calf weights at 9 months average bulls 380kg, heifers 320kg, they separate the heifer calf and bull calf groups before weaning and wean at nine months. Animals are housed December to April, heifers have their first calf at 3 years. They select heifers to retain at 2 years old based on growth rate, family and their look. One thing I did notice was the superb buildings. Mainly wood as metal structures weaken with the extremes of temperature experienced in these parts (altitude approx 582-867m).

International relations at M Trins farm - a bit of business perhaps?

International relations at M Trins farm – a bit of business perhaps?

M Trin kindly provided refreshments including the local liquer; we thanked him for his hospitality and presented him with an assortment of gifts – a little business was done and a young bull will hopefully be travelling to the UK soon.

We then set off for a visit to the village of Salers, this wasn’t as long as expected due to spending more time looking at cattle then we anticipated , but  as we walked into the village, who did we bump into but our president Harri Pritchard, wife Sioned and daughter Lora along with Andrew and Jackie Powell, so a group of us headed off to a nearby restaurant for a late lunch and a catch up! By the time we had eaten it was back to the coach…. note to self, got to come back to look round, it was beautiful and worthy of more time.

Salers - so picturesque

Salers – so picturesque

Pierre our French translator/helper, had made arrangements for us to call in at the bull test station Maison de Salers before going to our next farm visit, there were bulls in for testing but they were under quarantine so we could not see them but it was interesting to see where it all goes on and the headquarters for Salers in France.

Our next farm visit was to Gaec Andrieu in St Bonnet de Salers, were we met with Olivier and Chris. They  took over the farm in 1995 with 80 cows crossing with a Charolais. They then took over the herd of M Dozet and increased the herd to 160 cows. They are gradually winding down their crossing group and increasing their full blood group. They calve December to March weaning in October. Heifers go to the bull at 18 months.

Beautiful walking among the cattle and superb back drop

Beautiful walking among the cattle and superb back drop

The reasons they are moving to full blood Salers are

  1. The value of Salers heifers sold for breeding makes up for the lower value of bulls that have to go for meat. The average is higher.
  2. If they have a costly Salers bull, they get more calves out of that bull
  3. They have more Salers heifers to choose from as replacements
  4. They have more chance of breeding a really good Salers bull

They feed 1kg of concentrates in winter to the young stock.

They showed our group five 18 month old bulls, two caught the eye of the UK team and again business was done.

The area of St Bonnet de Salers is 720m-1350m high

We were again treated to refreshments and thanked and presented gifts to Olivier and Chris before heading back to the hotel.

The cattle lined up to see us off!

The cattle lined up to see us off!

On our way back we took the D680 road over the Puy Mary –climbing to 1600m (higher than Ben Nevis) with valley bottoms at a similar height to Snowdonia and everywhere herds of Salers. No wonder they do well in the UK! We were driving in and out of clouds, the views were spectacular if a little frightening!

The climb up Puy Marie

The climb up Puy Marie

Looking down on the villages below

Looking down on the villages below

With exceptional driving skills from Shalal, we arrived safely back for dinner and again it was good to see people mixing and chatting away with one another. Another brilliant meal was served, with a cheerful chef looking on at us stuffing our faces with good food and wine (and a sneaky look at the rugby scores) before bed ready for another early start in the morning.

Saturday 19th September

Another early start, breakfast at 7.15am then off to our first farm visit –  Gaec  Elevage M Missiel at Lescure, Valuejois. Farming at heights of 1300-1400m M Missiel is in partnership with his brother who is an AI technician, and they do all crossing by AI.  It has been a dry year and he only has 50% of his forage at the moment, he hopes to get a late cut now they have had some rain which will hopefully make up some of the loss, he also has alfalfa silage.

M Missiel has 150 cows and calves approx 100 in December, the rest in January and February. They are housed for five months. Each year he keeps 25 heifers for replacements and sells 12 heifers (at 2/3 years) for breeding. He keeps 20 cows for crossing with the Charolais, he has bred 35 bulls in the AI system.

An example of the cows at M Missiel's

An example of the cows at M Missiel’s

M . Missiel first showed us a group of heifers who would have been at the show. We then saw a group of mixed aged cows. They had been on the hill with their calves all summer and weaned some one or two weeks previously, the tails were shaved to stop them swishing muck onto the udder after calving. We also saw a field of four bulls, but none were for sale. M Missiel’s favourite was Gandalf, his first crop of 20 calves are on the ground and he has got 30 cows in calf this year. It was suggested Gandalf might be bought for 20,000euros! We then went on to see the family groups which would have been taken to the show. A very impressive show of animals and such a delight to walk amongst them. Again the visit ended with refreshments gratefully received and our presentation of thanks and gifts.

One of M Missiel's bulls ready for work

One of M Missiel’s bulls ready for work

We boarded our bus and set off to our next farm visit of the day….

Earl des Moulinges, M Chassang, on the D990 near Billiez we were met by wife Martine and son Pierre Alain who showed us some of their 100% pure Salers. They have 3 farms, one at 700m, another at 1000m and the highest one at 1300m, the mountain pasture is good grass. They use AI both from private and public bulls. They are chasing productivity and confirmation and prepare animals for commercial production and showing. Milk production is important to them. We saw a group of 18month old heifers, some sired by Eveil and Gaulaoise. We visited a second block of land and saw an 18 month old bull sweeping up with a group of approx 20 cows with bull calves. This bull and a few bull calves may be heading for the UK.

Martine Chassang telling us about this bull

Martine Chassang telling us about this bull, with me trying out my Franglais to explain!

Again we thanked Martine and Pierre Alain for their generosity in providing sustenance and showing us around and presented them with gifts.

We had a fleeting visit to the town of St Flour (where the show would have taken place) before we headed back to the hotel, the farm visits today were extra due to the cancellation of the show and were well worth seeing, as was our next excursion, on a boat! A 2 hour trip down the Garabit reservoir, which was more like a river cruise, there was an abundance of large birds of prey flying overhead, the reservoir is apparently used for irrigation of the land for farming as it does become very dry in the summer, some sections of the water in the reservoir are heated by volcanic springs under the surface. It was a calming couple of hours to relax in a picturesque setting with a glass of wine or two and chatting to one and another!

Loading up for the boat trip on the Garabit Reservoir

Loading up for the boat trip on the Garabit Reservoir

Following the boat trip it was a quick shower and change for our presentation evening. We had invited our French colleagues to join us for our Saturday evening meal and was delighted that Bruno Faure, Lionel Duffayette, Andre Clavel from Salers Evolution, Bernard Missiel Salers  breeder, Geraud Delorme, Salers breeder, Peirre  Laceppe, our translator with girlfriend Laura attended.

We enjoyed an evening of good food and good company. We were also informed prior to our trip that a couple in our party were celebrating 50 years of marriage so Jeff and Mary Davies were congratulated and presented with a bottle of Champagne (Paul arranged for this to be transported back to the UK for them as we all had hand luggage only) and also Bob Williams had for the second year running won the shearing competition at the Eglwysbach Show this summer so the show committee have decided to handicap him next year and we presented Bob with some hand shears!  A double celebration for Bob and his family as his wife Nan was in one of the winning choirs at this years’ Eisteddfod. I was also presented with the latest book Salers La vache and inside all the tour delegates, plus our French guests had signed it; I will treasure the book always as a wonderful memory of a fantastic trip.

Sunday 20 September

Another early start and another wonderful journey this time to meet Christophe Duval and business partner Valentin Besse. Christophe has 136 cows on 150ha, 50 of the cows are with a Charolais bull and 86 with Salers. They select for muscle, pelvis and milk. The main farm stands at 950m. They select Charolais bulls that are bred for crossing to the Salers. Bull calves are approx 250kg at weaning and are then fed 1.7 kg of concentrates to sell at 10months for approx 1050euros.They send their poorest confirmation 2nd calf Salers to the Charolais bull as these only go for meat. They will be sending 2 bulls to the test station this year. M Duval senior showed us two heifers that would have been heading for the show. The location of this farm was fantastic with a very beautiful old farmhouse. More hospitality and gifts were presented.

Fantastic old farmhouse

Fantastic old farmhouse

Christophe Duval and Valentin Besse

Christophe Duval and Valentin Besse at the presentation

At this point some of the ladies decided to leave the coach party in search of coffee and shops in a nearby town, we appropriately dropped them off at the cattle market, promising that we would be back to collect them at 12.30…..famous last words!

The reduced group (with just three ladies) then headed for the farm of M Laurent Defisque near to Cheylade. He had 80 Salers cows, half for breeding and half for crossing, he also had 30 Montbeliarde. We wandered amongst the cattle (as we did at all the farms), the older bull seemed to take a liking for our big blue bus! At the farmhouse we were shown a very nice bull, for sale at 6350euros and a very impressive shed (as we saw at other farms) paid for by European funding where we were provided with refreshment and gifts were presented. We then moved onto a larger field of cows and calves, they were on good grazing and looked fit. The location of these farms had to be seen to be believed, high up in the mountains with beautiful pasture.

Impressive shed! Wouldn't mind one of these myself

Impressive shed! Wouldn’t mind one of these myself!

M Defisque's bull took a liking to the big blue bus!

M Defisque’s bull took a liking to the big blue bus!

We rushed back to collect our ladies (at least an hour late) thankfully we had managed to warn them of our delay then onwards and upwards….

We moved on for lunch in a mountain village called Murat. There was a festival in Murat and being in agricultural mode, in our minds we were heading for a festival celebrating food…..possibly arable goods? Well sort of…it was a festival of the Cornet of the ice cream variety! However a little different the cornet was made from biscuit (like a tuile) shaped into a cornet and filled with flavoured Chantilly cream. Basically you bought a ticket then went on a trail through the village to find the gazebo with your favourite flavour – raspberry was gazebo number 16!  All the while there was entertainment – dancers, people on stilts, musicians, people dressed up as cornet…. any excuse to party really! The streets of this mountain village were packed with people and local produce…cheeses, jams, preserves. We then mustered the troops back to the coach to ascend the mountain to our final farm visit.

Murat - Festival of the Cornet (of the food variety!)

Murat – Festival of the Cornet (of the food variety!)

Shalal our coach driver had to test every bit of his driving skills to negotiate the trek up the mountain through tiny villages (with the French occupants shaking their heads and raising their hands in dismay) and we eventually reached the top at 1150m where Geroud Delorme and his father were busy milking Salers right on top of the mountain! He had a mobile milking parlour with 5 stands, a group of cows gathered round and a pen of calves. What we saw was amazing. Geroud and his father called in the cows by name one at a time, they went to a free milking stand, then Geroud or his father called the name of the cow by the pen of calves and miraculously the cows calf came alive and made its way through a pen full of calves to the gate where it was let out to go to its mother to start sucking, to let down the milk, then Geroud put the milk clusters on and gathered the milk whilst the calf was tied to its mother. Once milking was complete the calf went back to the pen and the mother went off in the field. It really was one of those events that you needed to see to believe. Bob Williams was blown away by this and ended up helping with the milking. Being on top of the mountain at the end of the day it soon started to get cold and windy, so slowly people made their way back to the coach. The cold was soon forgotten as we made our way back down the mountain through tiny villages with cheers as Shalal negotiated tight turns, and he squeezed the 49 seater in between buildings. We eventually got to the valley bottom (which was the same height as Snowdonia in Wales and bearing in mind we had been higher than Ben Nevis). A geologist friend of mine explained how volcanic regions are always lush due to the minerals etc. hence why people tend to live in sometimes dangerous volcanic regions.

Cows in the mobile milking parlour at the top of the mountian

Cows in the mobile milking parlour at the top of the mountian

 

Pen of calves waiting to be called to their mother for milking

Pen of calves waiting to be called to their mother for milk -amazing to see.

We headed back to the hotel in awe at what we had seen, and reflected on the whole trip. I was concerned that without the show it would be a damp squid of a tour, how mistaken I was… it was better than I could ever have wished. In fact I think it should be on the agenda for every UK Salers breeder.

We had our last evening meal at the hotel and in true Welsh form the “boys” from Wales burst forth with various welsh songs including Land of our Fathers, followed by the Scottish contingent and their rendition of Flower of Scotland and all ended with a raucous version of “she’ll be coming round the mountain….. “ I went to bed tired, relieved and with one hell of a smile on my face knowing that everyone had enjoyed themselves and made some good friendships along the way. Paul Campbell of Pedigree Tours had done a great job in organising things and keeping us entertained throughout.

Only the journey to the airport and the flight home now….. oh and 8 animals bought and to get back to the UK!

A DVD is being put together of the trip so we can share the experience with other Salers breeders and there will definitely be another trip organised in the not too distant future.

Thanks to Paul Allison of Deveraux Farms for use of his notes  and our grateful thanks to Paul Campbell of Pedigree Tours for putting together an amazing trip to the Cantal region of France. Despite the cancellation of the show everyone enjoyed the trip immensely, in fact I personally enjoyed it more!