5 April 2002

SW beef needs partners

By John Burns

South-west correspondent

MORE beef producers in the south-west will have to form partnerships with milk producers and pedigree beef breeders to improve profits, says a report by the Devon Red Meat Strategy.

Consultants preparing the report were told by beef producers that genetic improvement would be an important ingredient in the mix of profit improvement measures within producers control. Holstein influence on both crossbred slaughter stock and suckler cow replacements was progressively lowering the value of finished cattle in the region and that had to be tackled urgently, it said.

At a meeting of the newly-formed Devon Agricultural Forum, established by Devon County Council, delegates were told that commercial suckled calf producers should work with milk producers to ensure a better type of replacement heifer calf was produced. There was also a good chance for some pedigree breeders to contribute, using two beef breeds to produce crossbred heifers combining good beef quality with hybrid vigour and maternal traits.

Bill Harper, south-west chairman of the National Beef Association, emphasised the possibilities of SWISH – the south-west improved suckler hybrid based mainly on Angus x South Devon. But this did not exclude other crosses, such as Simmental x Galloway, which was more suitable for the harsher parts of Dartmoor, he added.

"We have more than 100 registered South Devon herds in Devon and Cornwall and many are prepared to use a good Angus bull on females not wanted for pedigree breeding. Cows of that cross are good mothers, last well and produce calves with early maturity and quality."

Mr Harper suggested that a sub-committee should be formed within the forum to help push genetic improvement forward and liaise with other projects in the south-west. This would include the proposed SWISH project for which a Cornwall Objective One funding bid was currently being prepared.

A well-integrated system was needed, with information passed back from abattoir to all stages in the chain with a view to improving quality and consistency. With that in mind, he believed that although the project would be run from Cornwall, demand for females and finished stock would come from further afield. Added value from the locally-produced superior suckler cow would be important for the regional economy.

Ken Heard, whose family has long farmed Dartmoor in Devon confirms the value of the Simmental x Galloway cow. "We have had them for about 15 years. They make a very hardy, but milky cow which will outwinter on the moor.

"Although we lost our 300 sucklers in the foot-and-mouth cull last year, we will go back to them once we have built up the Galloways again. We have re-stocked with just 30 good young pedigree Galloways and a Galloway bull, all from Scotland. I expect it will take at least five years to get numbers back up again."

But gradual designation of Dartmoor into an Environmentally Sensitive Area means no outwintering of cattle, added Mr Heard. For that reason, new cattle have been bulled to calve in October after cows come off high moor on to inbye land.

But it will still be necessary to have breeds which will graze rough moorland herbage in summer to maintain vegetation balance. The Galloway blood will ensure that, he said. &#42