HAVING BRED and shown the champions at the last three Blonde D’Aquitaine Carlisle sales, as well as topped each day’s trade, David Knight and partner Sue Cavilla, of Wilts-based Doncombe Blondes, reckon they have one of the most under-appreciated breeds in the beef sector.
“It has fantastic scope to compete with the Limousin, offering many of the same traits, but for a cheaper price,” says Mr Knight.
“We also have the health attributes more sort after by the modern consumer. If anything the breed can be too lean.” Some breeders say the breed is best used in pure breeding situations, but Mr Knight reckons it has the makings of a terminal sire.
Following a little persuasion from Oxford-based breeder Chris Lewis, the Doncombe herd was started in 1985 and the 18-month-old heifer Druk Valda took pride of place as the herd’s foundation.
Now calving 50 pedigree cows, he and Mrs Cavilla have already had great success in the sale ring. The most recent being the champion and top priced bull at last month’s Carlisle bull sale.
Bred by Mrs Cavilla, 18-month-old bull Doncombe Undniablyadodimead took the junior championship and later the overall Blonde championship realising 5000gns to join the Thompsons’ herd in Yorks.
The bull responsible for breeding these champions is Druk Lance. Picked out at six months old, he was purchased from Mr Lewis’ herd at 10 months old and has not looked back. Still running with the herd at nine years old, Mr Knight is now looking for his successor.
No easy task, he points out. He has put width in to the herd, something Mr Knight feels the breed often lacks. “They have great height and length, but can lack that little extra across the back.
“We have a son of his who stood second in the junior bull class at this year’s Royal Show. But, we still need a bull with different breeding to Lance to go on his daughters.
The pair have experimented with French semen to bring different genetics into the herd and have also made a rare purchase of a cow and calf, as Mr Knight liked the young French-sired calf suckling her. “He could be the one.”
Mr Knight describes current management methods of the Doncombe herd as primitive. “Cattle graze land in a 20-mile radius of the farm buildings, which are also minimal.” However, plans are afoot to take on a new tenancy and farmhouse which means plans for future expansion are already in mind.
“Instead of having 150 acres scattered all over the place we will have 300 acres in close proximity to the farmhouse. It is also likely cow numbers will increase, as we have kept back more heifer replacements than we normally would.”
Because of current housing and grazing circumstances, cows only receive hay during winter. “If they were fed silage they would be lying even wetter,” says Mrs Cavilla.
Summer-born calves are creep fed, but autumn calves are not, as there isn”t enough space when they are housed. “Because of a lack of storage, we can only accommodate one type of feed which has to suit all,” adds Mr Knight.
“The 16% protein concentrate is fed to both calves and bulls for Carlisle, but it seems to be working.” Doncombe regularly exceed the breed’s average for 400-day growth rates, with the average being 640kg and the best reaching 750kg.
However, one thing that won’t change is the ability to sell Doncombe meat from their current property. “Any bull that doesn’t make the Carlisle grade is slaughtered locally and sold privately.
“With sales of meat approaching 2000 for an 850kg bull, it is a major part of our business,” says Mrs Cavilla.
Thoughts for the future of the Doncombe herd remain strong. “I’ve always wanted to sell at Perth bull sales, but demand for the Blonde there is weaker than at Carlisle,” says Mr Knight.
Once the herd has moved into its new accommodation in the spring, plans will also be under way for summer shows. “Exhibiting this year has given me the bug to do more and with more space to exercise and train bulls, as well as females, there’s no reason why we can’t,” adds Mrs Cavilla.