16 October 1998

EBVs improve herd quality

Supporting visual assessments of bulls offered for sale with

EBVs will help improve performance, as one producer has

discovered over the past three years.

USING bulls with high Estimated Breeding Values has paid off for one Midlothian farm manager.

Bryan Kelly, Saughland Farm, Pathhead, has upgraded calf quality from his 93-cow suckler herd by switching to Limousin cross Friesian dams bred to high EBV Limousin sires.

"Three-quarter-bred Limousin progeny are a totally different animal to the type of calves we could breed from traditional Hereford cross Friesian cows. By using Limousin bulls with high EBVs for growth and carcass traits, weve been able to get closer to what the market wants."

This view is confirmed by the farms most recent sale of store cattle in the third week of September, when Limousins averaged £1/kg at 530kg liveweight, while slightly younger Charolais crosses averaged 88p/kg at 480kg.

Fine-tuning other aspects of herd management has enabled the autumn-calving enterprise to improve margins, despite a decrease in average sale price for store and finished cattle last year. Records show suckler herd gross margins were £342/cow and £445/ha (£180/acre), based on last years sales, when about two-thirds of suckled calves were sold as stores and the rest finished on-farm.

The commercial suckler herd at Saughland Farm, owned by Richard Callander, is run alongside a flock of 900 Scotch mule ewes on the 295ha (728 acre) holding, which has 12ha (30 acres) of permanent pasture and also grows winter wheat, winter and spring barley, rotational grass and turnips.

Until three years ago, all cows and heifers were mated to Charolais stock bulls. However, scarcity of good-quality Hereford cross Friesian heifers for herd replacements prompted Mr Kelly to purchase dairy-bred Limousin crosses in 1995.

These were synchronised and bred by artificial insemination to the performance-tested, easy-calving Limousin, Dyfri Grand Prix.

The first three-quarter-bred Limousin calves from these heifers impressed Mr Kelly: "They had great conformation and grew well compared with Charolais cross calves produced by the rest of the herd. Although the Limousin breed has a reputation for flightiness, we had no problems.

"The quality bonus convinced me that breeding from sires with high EBVs was the way to go. As the next step, I decided to replace one of our Charolais bulls with a high-indexed Limousin, and bought Linross Longjohn at the Carlisle bull sales in 1996."

This bull had an EBV of +1.08 for muscling and high EBVs for other recorded traits, giving him a Beef Value of LM+53 and putting him in the top 1% of the breed. The Beef Value index takes into account rapid growth, current meat trade specifications and the relative financial value of carcass traits. However, Mr Kelly stresses that he wouldnt have bought the bull unless he also liked its conformation.

"Longjohn is very well put together and lengthy. His first calves, born last summer and autumn, gave Grand Prix a run for his money."

With confidence steadily growing, Ronick Legacy was purchased for 6000gns at Perth in February 1997. Legacy has a 400-day growth EBV of +48kg. With +0.44 points for muscling score. He was followed onto farm this spring by Allanfauld McCoist – a sire with a muscle score of +0.7 putting him in the top 5% of the breed – purchased at the Perth sales.

"I like to have a good look around the day before the sale to pick out animals with good EBVs and the kind of conformation I like," adds Mr Kelly.

"I look for a good 400-day weight, low fat depth and a high muscle score. A low birth weight EBV also indicates a sire that should have few calving problems."

Bought-in replacement heifers are still AId. By synchronising their breeding, he has gradually pulled forward the start of calving from August to July. This means that calves can be weaned at turnout in spring – usually May – and can go straight onto creep feed, an economical home-mix including soya and home-grown barley.

This has improved growth performance and use of farm labour. On the previous system, calves were too young to wean at turnout, so had to be brought back in a few weeks later – usually in the middle of silage making.

Creep feeding and less disruption after turnout have helped keep calf growth rates high through summer. This gives greater flexibility when selling stock – valuable in an unpredictable market. Last year, he opted to sell top and middle quality calves at about 12 months old, and held on to the lower end to finish or sell during autumn and winter as forward stores.

Pleased with sales achieved last year in a difficult market, Mr Kelly sees a much greater role for Limousins within the herd. Currently there are 60 Hereford crosses, 33 Limousin cross cows and 28 Limousin cross heifers. But by next year, two thirds of the herd will be black cows – and all herd sires will be high EBV Limousins.