Best Breed for the System Essential

FINDING THE right breed to suit your system will be essential post-CAP reform, according to the two producer speakers at the BGS winter meeting.

Both Galashiels-based Wilbert Girvan and New Galloway producer Marcus Maxwell have changed breeds in order to suit their systems in recent years.

Farmers Weekly Farmer Focus contributor Mr Girvan has moved from Blue-Grey cattle to Luings to have a cow which can be outwintered on deferred hill grazing.

“We changed to Luings 12 years ago and have never looked back.

“We finish our own bulls and, while we get no more for these than we did for bulls bred from Blue-Grey cows, we earn a premium for our heifers, which are constantly in demand for breeding.”

Luings are, believes Mr Girvan, more suited to a system of outwintering than other breeds, particularly with cattle grazing for more than five months of the year at heights of up to 400m above sea level.

Winter rations for Mr Girvan’s system are kept simple, with cows offered 2.25kg/head/day of wheatfeed pellets after Jan 1. “This costs just £16/cow until calving in April. After calving, cows are offered magnesium rolls which increase feed costs by a further £4.28, making total feed costs of £20.28/cow.”

Mr Maxwell has moved away from Mules to Romneys in recent years in a bid to develop a more natural sheep system which demands lower labour and machinery inputs.

“Previously we were lambing all our ewes inside, conserving grass to feed them and hiring lambing students to work in the sheds. However, I thought there had to be an easier, more sustainable system.”

In an attempt to replicate systems he had seen in New Zealand, Mr Maxwell set about importing New Zealand Romney embryos for implantation. “We wanted a ewe which could look after herself, lamb herself and rear her lambs with minimal human interference.

“Vet and med costs are currently just £2/ewe, with feed costs just £4/ewe. Also we want lambs which can be sold at a variety of weights, from 14-19kg. Many terminal sire breeds fail to hold flesh all through their life, making this aim difficult. However, the Romney can and does do it,” he added.