Salers and Charolais provide the basis for an integrated approach to the production of pedigree cattle targeted at the commercial suckler beef producer, developed by Rigel Pedigree – a family farming business based near Yarm, North Yorkshire.

While the Pye family have collected a string of show awards, backed up by leading prices at breed sales for their pedigree cattle, their approach is heavily influenced by an earlier experience with strictly commercial, non-pedigree suckler beef production.

They also stress that their choice of breeds is based firmly on what they feel are the best breeds for their system, rather than loyalty to any particular breed. The family team is made up of brothers Terence and Malcolm and their wives, Jane and Gill, plus two part-time stockmen, Jim Ridley and Steve McIntyre. In 1991, the family took over the 85 hectare Levens Field Farm, Middleton-on-Leven, but the ideas for the present enterprise came to life in the late 1980s.

At that time, Malcolm and Gill were running a commercial suckler enterprise based on cross-bred dams on their farm near Redford, Nottinghamshire. Like many other farmers they were increasingly concerned about the influence of the Holstein on commercial suckler cows. With this in mind, the brothers and their wives had also decided to team up to buy a new farm and to move into pedigree breeding. The search for the new farm took two years, in part because any new farm would need to have two houses.

In practice Levens Fields had none – the former farmhouse having been sold separately – but it did have a complax of redundant farm buildings suitable for conversion into two homes. The farm is made up of around 55 hectares of former arable land, now in a six year grass clover mix and wholecrop rotation, and 30 hectares of permanent pasture, including some grazed woodland. Unusually, the best land is the highest on the farm, with the poorer land dropping to the River Leven. Rainfall is light, making some of the arable land vulnerable to drought. It is also exposed to northerly winds, but is protected by the Pennines and Yorkshire Moors to the West and South.

In addition, there is 15 hectares of grass land rented on an annual seasonal basis. “We looked at just about every breed and cross we could think of including Simmental, Shorthorn, South Devon, Blondes, Lims, Herefords, Aberdeen-Angus and Lincoln Reds, but in every case there was somthing that held us back, “ reflects Malcolm. “What we were trying to do for the suckler situation was to find an animal bred for that purpose in the same way that the Holstein had been developed for the dairy industry.

Simply, we were looking for the genetics that would do the same job for the suckler world,” During this search for their chosen animal , the family felt that in too many of the breeds they looked at, the em- 34 Finding a breed ‘designed’ for suckler herd purpose The herd has good maternal traits including fertility, milkiness & longevity. phasis was on the beef production and not on breeding animals. “We were also conscious that there are nearly always a few beef calves from dairy-bred dams that prove difficult to finish. “There were also question marks over fertility and longevity with many of the breeds and crosses we saw,” In a bid to solve these problems, the family came up with four key requirments for a suckler cow.

“They had to be easy calving, even when put to heavily muscled sires,” says Terence.

“To us this meant natural calving without any assistance. “We needed high daily liveweight gains for early finishing, combined with good killing out percentage and high quality carcases and meat.” In addition, there had to be good maternal traits including fertility, milkiness and longevity. This had to be linked to robustness including sound bone structure, foraging ability, disease resistance, and general hardiness.

“We felt that in the modern commercial beef suckler environment these were essential to be able to produce high quality beef at low cost and with minimal labour he says. “At the time, the Salers breed was relatively new to Britain but after going to sales and visiting herds, both in this country and in France, we felt that it ticked all our boxes. it is now nearly 20 years since the family first became interested in Salers, and they say the breed has consistently met or exceeded early expectations. “The dam is vital to quality beef production as it provides half the genetics of the beef calf,” says Terence. “In the same way as the arrival in the 1960s of the Charolais transformed the terminal sire side of beef production, we became convinced that the Salers would do the same for the suckler side of the equation.

It was while they were in Salers, France, that they were impressed by Charolais cross Salers beef calves. “We used AI to try just about every beef terminal sire breed we could find on our own Salers to check for potential calving problems but in every case the Salers calved naturally. “In fact, since we have been breeding pure Salers , we have only had one Caesarean birth and that was a cow with a deformed pelvis. The farm does not possess a calving jack.” The family bought a Charolais bull at a fairly good price as he was too well muscled for many other buyers. With their bull in tow, the family then decided to start their own small pedigree Charolais herd to breed the type of bull well suited to the Salers. Events have since travelled full circle, with many Charolais breeders buying Salers bulls to use on Charolais heifers.

For more information contact Rigel Pedigree