26 November 1999

GOOD CALVES WILL ALWAYS SELL

Next week sees the start of a new era for the Royal Smithfield Club, livestock section organisers

of the Royal Smithfield Show. The RSC Winter Fair, at Lichfield Auction Centre, is intended to

attract a broader range of exhibitors in the Shows off year. Emphasis will be on commercial

attributes, with beef and lamb judged on the hoof and on the hook. There will also be a special

suckled calf show and sale. Peter Grimshaw talks to some of the new breed of exhibitors

"THERES always a customer for a good calf," says Ann Riley, Kirby Grounds, Blakesley, Northants. "And if it is a really super calf, you can get almost any price."

She is talking about a highly specialised marketing niche – breeding and raising suckled calves for people who just love to exhibit prime finished cattle at shows and fairs such as the Royal Smithfield Show, Birmingham Prime Stock Show, and, of course, the Winter Fair at Lichfield.

The Rileys 56ha (138 acre) farm is all permanent grass, stocked with sheep and beef cattle. The sheep flock comprises 255 Texel cross ewes. There are 25 suckler cows of mixed breeds, including a proportion of home-bred Belgian Blue cross animals, and the farm runs a Limousin and a Belgian Blue bull.

"The cows are hand-picked to breed a show calf," says Mrs Riley. "We aim to calve in the spring, but well calve at any time, if necessary."

Choice of bull depends on the cow, the Limousin being used predominantly on the Belgian Blue cross dams. Progeny remain with their dams for six to eight months, grazing until the herd comes inside, when halter training of the calves is started.

This intensive work generally pays off, however. Calves are rarely sold for less than £1000, and before the beef crisis, the top price was £2800/hd. Needless to say, these calves are targeted at the small niche market of showmen. But they still have to display the critical commercial characteristics of conformation and performance.

Although Mrs Riley has in the past regularly entered animals with some success for the baby beef classes at the Birmingham Show, and, until the markets demise, the Banbury Christmas Show, the majority of show-ring successes are indirect. Its the purchasers of her calves, who feed and finish them best, that pull the ribbons.

So there will doubtless be keen interest in AM&T Rileys entry for the Winter Fair. These are a very smart steer from a Charolais cross cow by the Limousin bull, and a heifer bred from a South Devon cross cow, also by the Limousin. Both are April-born, and Mrs Riley says she is very pleased with their progress, as the Fair date looms. Halter training was not started until the beginning of November.

The big hope is that the buyer of her calves at the special sale at the Winter Fair will go on to exhibit the animal at Smithfield 2000. Should it then be rewarded with the supreme accolade of the beef championship next year, Mrs Riley would be the first winner of a unique, new prize of £1000 awarded by the Royal Smithfield Club. Watch this space.

WINTER FAIR DETAILS

PUBLICDAY

Where: At Lichfield Auction Centre, Fradley Park, Staffs

When: Thursday 2 December. Judging of live cattle and sheep 10am, Farmer Forums Quality for Profit 12.30pm, livestock healthcare demonstrations throughout day, show and sale of suckled calves (1pm, sale 3pm). Catering facilities on site.

Cost: Entry £5, ample free parking.

Sponsored by Schering-Plough Animal Health in association with farmers weekly.

EXHIBITOR DAY

At Dawkins International Ltd, Congerstone, Nuneaton, Warwickshire on Sunday 5 December – exhibitors and by invitation only.

Exhibition of carcasses, prize presentations and luncheon.

Sponsored by Marks & Spencer in association with farmers weekly.