19 July 2002

LIMOUSINS PROVIDE KEY TO SUCCESS

Father and daughter team

Huw and Wendy Morgan

have enjoyed both show

and commercial success

with their Limousin crosses

SOME claim that commercial beef cattle competitions are more relevant than pedigree classes, but the two are inextricably linked.

Wendy Morgan, who will show Limousin crosses at the show, admits that, like other successful exhibitors of non-registered animals, she depends on those who supply the genetic raw material. For her the breed is the key to both profitable suckler calf production and winning silverware in commercial cattle and carcass competitions.

She and her father Huw farm a severely disadvantaged farm in Carmarthenshire. In many ways Nantgwynne is typical of most farms on the western edge of the Brecon Beacons National Park.

As they have only 60ha (150 acres) of enclosed land, the Morgans rely on common land grazing rights and rented summer grazing to run enough stock to make a living.

Livestock production is based on 1000 Cheviot ewes, 200 replacements and 50 suckler cows, for which Miss Morgan is largely responsible.

Her interest in showing cattle goes back a long way. On the wall of the farmhouse at Llandeussant is a photograph of her father receiving the championship cup at a Christmas primestock show a decade ago. But leading the winning animal is the diminutive figure of Miss Morgan then aged 16.

More interested

"I have always been much more interested in cattle than sheep," Miss Morgan admits. "I do help out with other jobs on the farm, but the suckler herd gets most of my attention. Generally my father just allows me to get on with it."

However they admit there are clashes, especially over the cost in time and feed of bringing forward show potential cattle. But they agree that using Limousin genetics has improved the value of their suckled calves. They are also sure that showing is a valuable shop window for their stock.

The quality of the suckled calves they produce was highlighted during the foot-and-mouth crisis. Customers who regularly bought Nantgwynne cattle at auction clamoured to buy on farm. The same happened this year with 10-month-old 400kg steers selling for £600/head. Heifers were also in demand realised around £1.40/kg.

Herd composition has changed since Miss Morgan became involved. Once Hereford-Friesian crosses predominated, but a sale at Sennybridge eight years ago altered policy.

Miss Morgan bought two Limousin cows for £2040 to try breeding winning show cattle. But it soon became clear that the breeds carcass traits could benefit the whole herd.

Buying in good quality females and using semen from top allowed her to build up her own herd to 20 cows, including 12 pedigree animals. The cattle owned by her father also now carry varying amounts of Limousin blood.

Selection is based on comprehensive knowledge of the type and recorded performance of available bulls. Miss Morgan pores over breed society publications and AI catalogues. She attends big sales to identify bulls she likes, and then tries to buy semen from them.

Concern about milkiness has stopped the Morgans from going too far down the road to running commercial purebreds. They believe that certain cow families lack the milk yield to allow their calves to express their full genetic potential without expensive creep feeding at grass.

Records indicate which cows yield poorly, but the Morgans admit that it is very hard to cull them when they produce superb conformation calves. Instead Miss Morgan is trying to identify milkier cow families from which to breed replacements.

In the meantime she and her father favour cows that have "a splash of Belgian Blue blood", and sufficient milk to do their calves well.

Miss Morgans show-ring and carcass competition victories started in the early 1990s. In 1995, a three-quarter bred Limousin from the herd, which she bottle fed after its dam died during calving, took the reserve supreme championship at the Welsh Winter Fair.

Eight championships

A host of summer and winter victories followed. In 2000 she took eight championships in nine Welsh shows to win a stock trailer in a Welsh Lamb and Beef Promotions competition.

Disappointment over the cancellation of summer shows was forgotten when she took the Supreme Carcass Championship at last Decembers National Festival of Meat

The three-quarter Limousin steer weighed 376kg on the hook and classified U4H. The £5550 he made at auction at least deflected attention away from the family debate on the costs of showing.

Huw and Wendy Morgan agree that Limousin genetics have improved the value of their suckled calves.