29 March 2002

Find best bull for your £

Last months Perth sales

showed beef producers

ready to pay high prices for

pedigree bulls. But how do

you ensure value for

money? Marianne Curtis

went to a British

Simmental Society/Genus

open day to find out

ARTIFICIAL insemination is helping one Suffolk suckler producer improve cattle performance and maintain a closed herd.

Hosting a Simmental Society/Genus open day at the Macaire familys Denston Hall Farm, Denston, farm manager Bob Bell said the units beef enterprise began in 1988.

"We started with 10 Hereford x Friesian heifers before adding 30 more the following year, all in calf to Limousin. However, the Macaires were not happy with the Limousins and wanted a quieter more docile breed."

Over the next two years, Simmental semen was used to inseminate cows and now most of the herd is at least 75% Simmental. Hire bulls were used for a four-year period in the early 1990s to move the herd over from spring to autumn calving, said Mr Bell.

"Heavy clay soil only allows a six-month grazing season, but there is no point in cows being indoors for six months and not working. Cows calve in October before housing, so by turnout calves are well grown and graze grass instead of lying on it."

Maximising forage use has always been a high priority for Mr Bell and is even more critical now the herd is in organic conversion. "We make high quality round bale silage, which is necessary to keep cows milking. It is wilted for 24 hours and we always use a silage additive."

Cows also receive 0.5kg a head a day of concentrate from calving. Calves are offered creep feed when they are penned separately from cows for a couple of hours each day. "Calves soon learn to come away from cows and separation stops them getting under wheels during feeding."

Progeny not used for breeding are finished at 18 months old on silage/grass and 1kg a head a day of concentrate from weaning to slaughter.

Bulling heifers are AId to calve as two-year-olds and a sweeper bull serves returns. "Heifers receive the farms best grazing to boost growth until a month before calving when they come in on to straw. I have not pulled a calf for two years, but when heifers used to graze up to calving, calves became too large."

Keeping vet problems to a minimum is the key now the herd is organic and a closed herd policy helps, said Mr Bell. "We last bought a bull two years ago, while two pedigree cows were purchased four years ago."

All the herds 80 cows are AId over a six-week service period, extended from three weeks in previous years. "Breeding our own bulls means bloodlines have become limited so we are AIing for longer this year."

Cows are not synchronised, but spotting them bulling is quite easy. Lights have dimmer switches so Mr Bell doesnt upset cow behaviour when he looks around them at night. "I usually spot most at 10 or 11pm. These are penned for the AI technician the following day and unless there are a lot, he inseminates them with no help."

Conception rates are usually 60% to AI, but he expects them to be higher this year because there have been fewer returns than usual. "Stock bulls have been with cows for three weeks after the end of the AI period and so far have served only 10 cows."

The herd block calves over a 10-week period and calves are weaned in September each year, with cows only dry for a month before calving. "This stops cows from becoming too fit."

Producers attending am open day at Denston Hall Farm admire autumn-born calves from its commercial Simmental herd.

&#8226 Closed herd.

&#8226 AI extensively used.

&#8226 High forage system.