15 November 1996

Dont get short

of replacements

Breeding suckler cow replacements will become more important, and an SAC trial hopes to find the ideal system. Emma Penny reports

USING a criss-cross system of two breeds of beef bull on groups of suckler cows will produce replacements, good finishing cattle and minimise the need to buy in replacement bulls.

So says the Scottish Agricultural Colleges Edinburgh-based beef expert Basil Lowman.

"It will become difficult to find suckler replacements," he says. The dairy industry has moved away from using beef bulls, and in six months beef cross suckler replacements will be in short supply. The answer is to breed your own."

The breeding project pursued by Dr Lowman at the SACs Bush Estate involves a lowland and upland herd, and aims to produce cross-bred cows which will perform well on each system, producing good calves and adequate milk.

"At Bush, we were finding it increasingly difficult to purchase good quality heifers. We bought 40 Limousin-Holstein bulling heifers four years ago and returned 23 of them to the dealer.

"Since them we have decided to breed our own, and I am working to develop a blueprint for breeding ideal, affordable suckler replacements."

Dr Lowmans system depends on the heifers bred from bull A being mated to bull B throughout their lives, and vice-versa.

"First, the system relies on only two breeds, which minimises complications. Also, the cross-breeding means bull As daughters are never mated back to him, avoiding in-breeding. The grand-daughters of bull A are likely to start breeding in year four, and only then will you need to think about replacements."

Breeding your own replacements from a beef bull means the herd moves away from the dairy, particularly Holstein, influence, meaning better finishing and carcass quality. And calving concerns should also ease as the herd becomes less Holstein influenced.

The lowland trial involves Simmental and Limousin, with the Simmental being chosen for its fleshing ability and milkiness, and the Limousin because it will reduce the size of the offspring and add back-end.

Limousin is also being used in the upland trial, which is Dr Lowmans chief interest, alongside Aberdeen Angus.

"Cows need to be kept easily, and to be able to live off their fat over winter. The mix of Angus and Limousin works well. The Angus is a small cow which is easy fleshing with some milk, while the Limousin influence will introduce back-end."

According to Dr Lowman, the potential benefit is that Aberdeen-Angus is perceived to be excellent eating quality, earning a 20p/kg carcass premium, which helps to make up for slower growth rates.

"I will happily use an Angus bull on Limousin heifers and an easy-calving limousin on Angus heifers. The only problem with the cross is milkiness – producers must select bulls with a high 200-day milk EBV."n

Criss-cross breeding using two breeds of beef bull groups of suckler cows will allow you to breed your own replacements and good finishing cattle.