3 July 1998

Criss-cross breeds for steady sucklers and traceability…

Continuing the Producing

Beef for Less series, FW

finds out why a criss-cross

breeding regime is

capturing a market for high

quality beef in Hants.

Simon Wragg reports

WITH a valuable market for traditional beef, one Hants estate is using a criss-cross breeding regime for replacement sucklers to ensure good traceability and beef quality.

Richard Stirling, farm director for the Manydown Company, Basingstoke, has been concerned over the variation in suckler replacement performance and conformation for a number of years – a result of the encroachment of Holstein genetics.

"One group of replacements bought as in-calf heifers looked all right, but by the time they were mature second calvers the Holstein influence was noticeable," he says.

In todays deadweight orientated market poor dam conformation and its effect on finishing progeny is unacceptable, believes Mr Stirling. Its the same for the difference in quality of finished carcasses destined for the estates butchery business established in 1994 to supply a local niche market for traditional beef.

"We knew there was a demand locally for quality beef. We have an urban population of 130,000 on our doorstep – it made sense to exploit those two factors," he says.

Continuing the Producing

Beef for Less series, FW

finds out why a criss-cross

breeding regime is

capturing a market for high

quality beef in Hants.

Simon Wragg reports

WITH a valuable market for traditional beef, one Hants estate is using a criss-cross breeding regime for replacement sucklers to ensure good traceability and beef quality.

Richard Stirling, farm director for the Manydown Company, Basingstoke, has been concerned over the variation in suckler replacement performance and conformation for a number of years – a result of the encroachment of Holstein genetics.

"One group of replacements bought as in-calf heifers looked all right, but by the time they were mature second calvers the Holstein influence was noticeable," he says.

In todays deadweight orientated market poor dam conformation and its effect on finishing progeny is unacceptable, believes Mr Stirling. Its the same for the difference in quality of finished carcasses destined for the estates butchery business established in 1994 to supply a local niche market for traditional beef.

"We knew there was a demand locally for quality beef. We have an urban population of 130,000 on our doorstep – it made sense to exploit those two factors," he says.

Shop customers are discerning and prepared to pay for quality, says Mr Stirling. "Not only are they looking for quality but they have become increasingly concerned about food safety since the BSE fiasco," he adds.

Traceability is more than just a buzz word when selling direct, he says. "We soon realised that the weak link in our production chain was the fact weve bought in replacements. To have complete traceability, and assure our customers that we have control from conception to consumption we needed to breed our own, and to strive for improved quality."

Working with herdsman, Glen Pude, Salers were picked as potential bloodstock for breeding replacements. Being hardy, reasonably sized, easy calving and needing low maintenance they suit the estates practice of overwintering cows on a mixture of forage and farm by-products.

Salers also contribute some of the beef characteristics which Mr Stirling sees as being lost as a result of Holstein Friesian prevalence in the beef industry.

A Saler bull has been purchased and put to the traditional Hereford X Friesian sucklers in the 175-cow herd to retain the beef character. The first batch of Saler X calves are being weaned at nine months old, weighing about 310kg.

Selection of heifers replacements is a continuous process up until bulling at 18-20 months. As the breeding continues, an Angus bull will be introduced to the criss-cross breeding programme to reduce risk of inbreeding.

The simplest approach to the criss-cross system being used at Manydown is the two-breed rotational cross (Livestock, Jan 9). Assuming the start point is two pure-breds, A and B, which are crossed, the F1 generation is made up of 50% A and 50% B (A50:B50).

The F1 females are bred to bull A to produce an F2 generation of A75:B25. F2 generation females are then bred to a bull of breed B to produce an F3 generation of A37.5:B62.5.

The F3s are bred to bull A to produce F4s of A68.7:B31.1. The back-crossing continues so that the cow population of the herd settles into two populations. Half the herd will be A1/3:B2/3, the other half A2/3:B1/3.

According to Elwyn Rees, ADAS senior livestock consultant who advises the Manydown Company on breeding strategy, another four generations will need to be bred before heifers are the optimum 1/3:2/3 hybrids.

The difference between the traditional Hereford x Friesian type suckler cows in the herd and the Continental crosses – which had a proportion of Holstein genetics – is exemplified by the difference in last winters feed bill; 9p/cow/day, according to Mr Stirling. Over the 160-day housed period the less hardy Continental cross cows cost £14/head more to feed.

Beef rations are tailored to utilise farm by-products. Steers finish at 560kg liveweight, achieving 1.25kg daily lw gain on 19kg silage, 1kg milled seconds from arable barley and/or wheat crops, barley straw, vitamins and minerals. Steers finish for 41p/kg lw gain, heifers for 34p/kg.

Cattle finished for the shop are grown on for a fortnight longer than those sold elsewhere, achieving a carcass grade of R4L plus. The increased finish ensures good marbling and better eating quality. Despite the higher fat cover, there is little extra carcass waste, says Mr Stirling.

Significant added value is achieved for beef sold through the shop. Compared with selling deadweight, heifers values are typically 25% better. But for many producers, selling on-farm is not economical due to the costs involved, explains Mr Stirling.

"Its all very well for publications to say to producers go out and market your cattle. Lets face facts – our total output of 170 finished cattle/year would be little more than three hours processing for a large meat plant.

"If this estate is to make the most of the outlet it has developed, it must stay in total control of the whole chain and that means breeding our own replacements. I only wish wed done it sooner."

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CRISS-CROSS BREEDING

CRISS-CROSS BREEDING

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