sucklers

Overview

The Salers, one of the oldest French breeds, has been bred continually in a difficult environment resulting in the development of its many qualities.  Until the 1960’s the cattle were bred for milk, meat and draught purposes producing large, hardy, well built animals with no excess fat and capable of regulating their body temperature. Since then meat production has become increasingly important leading to an improvement in conformation without loss of maternal qualities, especially reproduction and milk production.

  • The Saler cow’s large pelvic area and high yield of high quality milk make her ideal for rearing calves
  • The Salers ease of calving is essential for those looking for a low labour input breed
  • The genetic purity of the Salers breed creates a high level of hybrid vigour in cross breeding programmes that correlates to strong increases in weaning and yearling weights.
  • Salers can thrive in difficult climates, experiencing temperature variations from -15°  to 30° C in the Massif Central
  • With black hooves and good legs, the Salers will tackle any area whether rocky or wet without lameness, have excellent mobility and can easily make good use of extensive pastures.
  • These factors make them an ideal candidate for out wintering in the UK, as well as the high grazing areas of the west of England/Scotland and the Highlands and Islands of Scotland.
  • The Salers can tolerate long periods on slats during the winter.

Fertility and longevity

Salers females are extremely fertile. They reach puberty at an early age, conceive quickly, calve easily and breed back readily.  Salers heifers will readily bull at 15 months of age to calve at two years old and will continue to grow to a mature cow size at 5-6 years old.  Salers cows will then go on to calve every year for a minimum of 10 years from this time. This brings big savings in costs for replacements.

Ease of calving and Maternal instincts

The major asset of the breed is its ability to calve easily and without assistance, this is thanks to a pelvis only slightly inclined but above all to its unequalled pelvic area.   The Montana State University in the USA measured 153 Salers, 175 Angus and 94 Hereford yearlings and found the average pelvic areas of the Salers to be 15 square centimetres greater than the Herefords and 10 square centimetres greater than the Angus. In a similar study, the Colorado State University measured more than 900 yearlings representing 17 breeds in the USA and again confirmed that Salers had, on average, larger pelvic areas than any of the other breeds examined.

This is combined with a modest calf weight of 34-38 kg, a long narrow bodied calf with a small head and a short gestation period of 280 days.  Even when crossed with heavily muscled beef breeds, calving remains easy.  The French Salers Breed Society are unaware of any survey which does not rank Salers number one for ease of calving. This ease of calving has consequences : ie increased longevity, rapid return to heat, less vet’s bills and low labour inputs.

The performance of females of various breeds was compared in the USA by the Meat Animal Research Centre.  Salers-cross females calving as two-year-olds had considerably fewer calving difficulties than traditional breeds. The table also shows that the MARC trials confirm that Salers cross females wean heavier calves, in turn leads to faster finishing times.

US Meat Animal Research Centre Trials (Cycle 4, Phase 3)
Breed Group of Dam Calving unassisted 200-day weight
Salers 85.7 523.9
Hereford-Angus 68.9 487.5
Charolais 72.9 498.7
Gelbvieh 70.7 507.7
Pinzqauer 64.0 508.1
Shorthorn 75.2 512.6
Galloway 74.9 449.2
Piedmontese 64.6 491.9

Many breeds claim easy calving, so personal experience of Salers is probably necessary to be convinced that they really are out on their own for calving ease in a beef breed. Talking with any Salers breeder should help.

The Salers cow has strong maternal instincts and the calf has vigorous suckling qualities leading to very low losses post calving.  Salers females are usually very conscientious and vigilant mothers, often caring for other calves in the group as well as their own, indeed they can often be seen operating a ‘creche’ system.

Udder quality and milk

Bred for their rich milk, the Salers female has a tight, well placed udder that gives an abundance of high quality, rich milk.  Teats are normally very functional and set squarely under each quarter.  Udders are well attached and positioned out of harm’s way.

Research conducted in France over 4864 lactations found Salers to have an average daily milk production of 11.1 litres over a 274 day lactation (more than 3000 litres). By comparison, this same trial shows Charolais at 5.7 and Limousins at 4.9 litres per day.

Salers are capable of mobilising their body reserves easily during hard times and can thus maintain milk production for their calves. The body reserves are rapidly reconstituted when forage supplies are renewed. This is “concertina” effect is very marked in Salers. The breed is thus very adaptable to difficult periods and can maintain milk production when other breeds shut down.

Paternal Qualities

Whether using a Salers bull on Salers females or on other breeds a Salers bull can produce the extra muscle and growth normally sought from terminal sire breeds but without the calving difficulties.  Another big advantage with the Salers bull, is that the females produced can be retained, or sold for a premium, as ideal replacement breeders. A second cross Salers is still an excellent animal for meat or as a breeder.

The US Meat Animal Research Centre (MARC), in the world’s most comprehensive multi-breed comparison trial conducted over the last 20 years established in Cycle 4 Phase 1 that Salers bulls over Angus and Hereford cows produced 97.8% unassisted births.

The Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in the USA conducted a study in which Salers bulls and Angus bulls were used over similar heifers to evaluate calving ease. Birth weights of calves were similar – 33 and 34kg – but the Salers sired heifers gave 10% fewer calving difficulties. Added to this difference was the very significant difference that all the Salers sired calves survived to weaning while only 63% of the Angus sired calves survived.

The Basalt Grazing Company of Rolleston, Queensland, Australia, used a Salers bull in each of two paddocks with seven or eight other bulls and 220 cows. In these two paddocks, the pregnancy rate was 96% while in another nine mating groups with similar numbers but without Salers bulls, the pregnancy rate was 80%. This represents a 20% increase in production with no extra cost.

Breed temperament

Salers producers have committed themselves to producing and marketing quiet, easy-to-handle Salers cattle. If you haven’t used Salers cattle for a number of years because of concerns over docility, you should take a second look.

Salers meat quality and marbling

Unlike other continental cattle, Salers cattle have long been known for their inherent ability to marble, whilst producing a high meat yield with a minimum of back fat.

The US Meat Animal Research Centre studies confirm the marbling qualities of Salers as being second only to Aberdeen Angus, whilst also having a far lower back fat score than the Aberdeen Angus and a larger rib eye area.

Breed Marbling Back Fat Rib Eye Area
Aberdeen Angus 5.8 0.578 12.77
Salers 5.34 0.349 13.40
Hereford 5.09 0.517 12.70
Charolais 4.98 0.343 13.61
Limousin 4.64 NA 14.10
Simmental 5.01 0.363 13.61