limford

Cumbrian beef farmers David and Maggie Kelly are benefiting greatly following the creation of the hybrid ‘Limford’ dam, writes Jeremy Hunt.

A Cumbria beef herd is using the most cost-efficient breeding traits of imported Hereford genetics to produce a purpose-bred commercial suckler cow out of Limousin dams.

The genetic make-up of the cross-bred Limford females, being bred by David and Maggie Kelly, aims to capitalise on the key female traits prioritised by Hereford breeders in America and Australia.

“We believe these genetics can have a significant impact in the creation of a new hybrid dam for UK suckler herds as well as having the potential to be used successfully across other breeds,” says Mr Kelly.

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Although the imported Hereford genetics are being used on pedigree Limousin cows, they are bringing more than just superior female traits to this breeding project.

“Selection for gestation length has been one of our priorities and we’re using Hereford sires with a gestation length as low as 279 days. In addition, the Hereford genetics we’re using combine good self-replacing index figures, milkiness and ease of calving, but these bulls also have very good growth figures too,” he adds.

The couple’s high health status Netherhall herd at Mansergh, near Kirkby Lonsdale, is now rapidly expanding its Hereford numbers alongside the existing pedigree Limousin cows.

The Netherhall Limousins have been highly successful since the herd was established in 2002. Bulls have been sold to 20,000gns and continue to attract interest from Cogent, but a commitment to run their beef cattle business “more sustainably” has seen the Kellys turn to the Hereford.

And as a spin-off from the American and Australian genetics of their new herd came the opportunity to exploit the value of their superior traits through the Limford commercial suckler dam.

Now extending to 283ha bordering the River Lune, Nether Hall Farm is well suited to running a grass-based beef system.

“We can grow plenty of grass here so it makes sense to run cattle that can make the best use of it,” says Mrs Kelly.

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“As well as being easy to manage and easy to calve, the Hereford has the advantage of the lower costs of keeping cattle that thrive off a grass system. By combining them with the carcass traits of the Limousin makes sense, which is why we believe the Limford has a lot to offer the commercial suckled calf producer.”

Foundation genetics

The foundation Hereford genetics used at Nether Hall also include imported embryos from the US as well as cattle from the Ervie and Solpoll herds in the UK. The herd’s first eight pedigree Hereford bulls to carry the Netherhall prefix have already been sold to one dairy farmer in Dorset.

Within the next year there will be 100 Hereford females calving in the herd – as well as a nucleus of pedigree Limousins – while the production of Limford females will continue. This year about 70 Limford calves will be produced.

“We’ll finish the Limford steers off grass at about 18 months old and sell them through one of the Hereford beef marketing schemes and we’ll retain the Limford females to run as suckler replacements.

“The spring-born Limford steers will be weaned and run inside on silage and then turned out next spring to finish off grass to meet the deadweight specification of around 320-380kg.”

Mr Kelly says Australian and American Hereford breeders have spent many years addressing the commercial traits of their females – and part of that has been to breed females with better udders and smaller teats.

“The genetics behind the Limford are creating a suckler dam with all the carcass benefits of the Limousin plus the years of selection for female traits undertaken by American and Australia Hereford breeders,” says Mr Kelly.

Health

Good temperament has always been a top priority in the cattle bred at Nether Hall Farm, but equally the herd’s high health status is fiercely maintained through SAC’s Premium Health Scheme.

The herd tests annually for Johne’s disease and is Johne’s and BVD-accredited. Calves are vaccinated for BVD and every calf is tested at birth for BVD with tissue sampling tags the disease. The herd has been tested for Johne’s for seven years and has been accredited for five years.

“As a beef industry we need to take stock of how we produce our cattle. The days of big suckler cows with high costs are a drain on a herd’s profits. We need cows that can do the job as cost effectively as possible and still produce a calf that can weight half as much as its dam at weaning.”

The herd has always calved at two years old. “I know that’s not the norm, but we do it successfully and the heifers still grow on well after calving. We don’t throw a lot of feed at our newly calved heifers but we do look after them and make sure they’ve got plenty of good grass or good silage.

“We will continue to build-up the pedigree Hereford herd but the Limford has been a bonus. Our breeding policy for the Limfords will have the same genetic priorities that we maintain for the pure Herefords, so as suckler dams they will encompass all the commercial benefits of the superior female traits that we believe are so important.”