Quality sires increase longevity
By Jeremy Hunt North-west correspondent
USE of top quality sires in a Lake District suckler herd is having a positive impact on longevity of homebred replacements, with some still suckling calves at 20 years old.
Christopher, Jonathan and Jimmy Hodgson run three farms carrying 4000 ewes – predominantly Swaledale – and about 85 suckler cows.
Hartsop Hall and Rydal Farm cover 2200ha (5280 acres) of fell land with only 83ha (200 acres) of in-bye. A 64-cow Limousin-bred suckler herd is based at Rydal Farm, with land rising to 3000ft (900m).
The Hodgsons were among the first hill producers in Cumbria to invest in a Limousin bull almost 25 years ago. They have remained convinced of the breeds dual role as a terminal sire and female producer.
Apart from a few purebred Limousin cows bought in over the years, most of the herd has been bred up from Aberdeen Angus cows. About 60% of cows are now purebred Limousins, but longevity has been a major gain, says Jonathan.
"Our cows are great lasters and thats enabled us to be selective and retain replacement heifers from the hardest wearing and milkiest cows.
"Cows have to work for their living and milk well even when turned out on to the fell. We dont have enough lower land to keep them on the in-bye all the time."
The brothers agree its been a big advantage to have a beef cow as the basis of the herd and not a dairy-cross. "We are convinced our cows wear so well because there is no dairy breeding in them.
"An eight-year-old cow is a young cow here. We have cows that have kept breeding until 20 years old," says Christopher.
Although EBV figures are a guide, the family admits that a bulls conformation is their number one selection priority. But they struck lucky some years ago when they purchased an Irish-bred bull from the Brookvale herd for 5000gns.
"His daughters have been exceptionally milky and have left us with a good base on which to select future herd replacements," says Christopher.
The herd calves inside in March/April and is turned out immediately after calving. Winter feeding comprises self-feed silage. Calves are offered creep feed in early September and in previous years have been sold straight off cows in October at the main Carlisle autumn suckler sale.
Average weaning weights are 300kg and calves were making more than £1/kg to regular buyers, including several selecting potential winter primestock winners. Last years average price was £346.50/head for 50 steers and heifers.
But this year, movement restrictions imposed on Cumbria have made selling stock difficult. With no spare housing or grazing capacity at the farm and no chance of taking traditional away-wintering for replacement hill hoggs, suckled calves must be sold to buyers within the county. *
Some Limousin suckler cows on the Hodgson brothers Lake District unit last for 20 years.
• Long lasting cows.
• Weaning weight 300kg.
• Movements restricting sales.