Seven years into a 10 year plan to breed a three-way cross suckler cow based on the maternal traits of Salers and out-crossed to fast growing, feed efficient Aberdeen Angus and Simmental bloodlines, James & Emma Hallett’s first crossbreds are performing well but lessons have already been learnt.

Having recently achieved the goal of establishing a 100-cow pedigree Salers herd at Lower Wood Farm, near Ludlow, Shropshire, the first three-way cross calves should be born in March 2020. The aim is to offer these, as well as full pedigree stock, for sale as bulling heifers to suckler herds either direct off farm and through Society sales at nearby Welshpool.

Salers cows with cross-bred calves.

He says: “We believe the maternal attributes of the Salers mixed with the growth rates and carcase conformation of the two out-cross sires will produce great feed efficiency and productivity. Whilst there is not yet an EBV for feed efficiency, we believe Salers do perform exceptionally well.”

Foundation stock for Ledwyche Salers consisted of 19 nucleus cows purchased from the Coland herd in 2010. Preenbank Izac has been a major influence on the herd, with in excess of 60 daughters now recorded, he has become the No.1 Salers bull in UK for milk – with an Estimated Breeding Value (EBV) +24, as well as growth EBVs in top 5% of the breed.

This year 25 heifers have been put to the polled Salers bull Rigel Kirsch; others have been put to the home-bred young bull Ledwyche Llewellyn, Simmental sire Alchester Francis Marshall 14 and Angus sire Cordon Jester P255. All have been selected with an eye to traits for milk production, calving ease, growth rates and temperament.

“This was always going to be a 10 year programme of breeding and investment,” explained Mr Hallett who formerly worked for genetics supplier Cogent and today has additional business interests in the marketing of livestock.

Cows are housed from November as ground conditions dictate and calve in March the following year. Females and their calves will be turned out 72 hours after calving onto pasture at Lower Wood Farm which covers 93ha (230ac) on the Wiggins family’s Downton Hall estate.

Around 80% of the rolling claybased grassland has been reseeded using perennial ryegrass and red clover mixes from research institute IBERs to form four or five year leys. Some is cut to produce large baled haylage which forms the foundation of the herd’s winter feedstock.

Youngstock and heifers receive up to 4kg/head/day of an 18% proprietary concentrate during the housing period to ensure they achieve their growth potential and maintain body condition. “We’re aiming for a 550-600kg mature bodyweight. If achieved it will be a reduction on current mature weights of around 10% allowing more cows to be kept on the same area.”

Performance of all stock is recorded on the software programme Breed Plan including that of the first generation cross-breds. Youngstock are weighed every other month and breeding females twice yearly to monitor performance. “It is a very good farm management tool,” reflects Mr Hallett who has an eye for interrogating data to make informed business decisions.

The data has already been put to use. For example, average birth weights from this year’s calvings show Salers female calves averaged 37kg and males 43kg; Angus crossbreds 36kg and 44kg, respectively; and Simmental cross-breds 41kg and 47kg, respectively. “As we want to avoid any calving issues no Salers maiden heifers will be put to the Simmental or Angus bulls.”

Heterosis, or hybrid vigour, should yield an improvement in performance of around 20%, he explains. Around 14% will be achieved in the first out-cross and the remaining in the second generation. “While the majority of bull calves are sold off the farm to a dedicated finisher I still keep an eye on their performance as an indicator against which to judge our breeding decisions.”

More number crunching is helping fine-tune the commercial suckler enterprise’s management. But an eye is also being kept on costs. Mr Hallett estimates it has cost in excess of £250,000 to date to establish facilities (open-sided straw housing for over-wintering stock) and get stock numbers to their current level.

“It would not have been possible had we not had capital available from careers we’ve had or continue to have away from the farm,” he reflects. But the drive is for the commercial enterprise to be generating sustainable profits in order to reinvest and grow.

Some costs are offset such as swapping muck for straw with the estate’s in-hand farming operation. Machinery costs are minimised by utilising local contractors for forage harvesting and reseeding.

But, fundamentally, Mr Hallett sees the beef sector needing to improve efficiencies across the board. Of all the livestock sectors it is one of the most fragmented, he suggests, not just in terms of the variation in breeds but also the diversity of farming systems in use.

“Some integration may be possible and I believe that we have to follow the progress made in the pig and poultry sectors at managing costs. Some of my obsession with data comes from involvement in horticulture where production and cost control are managed very tightly to generate profits.” “

I believe Salers has the maternal
attributes of a very successful suckler cow – milkiness, calving ease – and when crossed with other commercial beef breeds can produce a calf that will perform, achieve a high 400 day weight and with good feed efficiency.”

Simon Wragg