15 November 1996

THRIVING BUSINESS IS BASED ON LIMOUSINS

By Robert Davies

PAST results suggest that Limousin-sired cattle are again likely to collect a large number of prizes in Smithfield Shows carcass exhibition, as at many other winter primestock events.

And it was the ability to produce high quality commercial carcasses that first attracted Geoff James to the breed. Now, after 14 years of herd building, he says hardiness, foraging ability, and suitability for easy care management are equally important.

Mr James and his four sons farm 283ha (700 acres) of exposed less favoured area land overlooking the Bristol Channel and Port Talbot steel works in Glamorgan. The farm is part of a larger business, which includes timber and landscape gardening enterprises, and a chain of burger restaurants.

This has a turnover of £12.5m/year, but it all started on a 24ha (60-acre) hill farm, on which Mr James reared pigs on swill collected from local hospitals.

His family now runs 1000 Lleyn and Welsh ewes and ewe lambs, and 105 registered Limousins. These are bred pure to produce high quality suckled calves.

The herd was spring calving, and the calves were sold at 250-300kg for grass finishing. Policy has now changed to August and September calving to turn out more saleable calves weighing an extra 50-100kg at the spring sales.

"The light evenings also make it easier to manage calving outside at that time of year," Mr James claims. "We used to bring cows in to calve, but they fretted and became temperamental. Exper-ience shows that Limousins are far easier to handle out at grass. Very few calvings have to be assisted, so the breed is ideal for an easy care system."

Out-wintering what he describes as his "French Welsh Blacks" is a component of the system operated at Dyffryn Farm. The herd is given access to a barn, and uses it when conditions are bad. But the cattle choose to spend most time outside. Silage alone supplements any available grazing until Christmas, after which the cattle also clear the remains of 12ha (30 acres) of forage rape used to finish many of the 800 lambs sold annually through Beacon Electronic Auctions.

"Limousins really thrive outside over winter," says Frazer James, who manages the farming enterprise. "They do their calves well. Last year steer calves born in the spring of 1994 weighed an average of 275kg at sale and averaged £1.82/kg. Barren cows weighed around 600kg and averaged £712.

"Because of the beef crisis, we sold 38 cows with their green card CID steer calves this year for an average of £700 a couple. We reckon that this was £300 less than we would have received in 1995."

Geoff James says that all beef producers will have similar depressing figures in mind as they travel to Earls Court, and will also be considering reducing cattle numbers.

"We try to produce the best quality naturally fed beef cattle but are losing money on them. I am pessimistic about market recovery, but it will certainly not happen unless all sectors of industry get their acts together to give retailers and consumers confidence in our products."

Like other fast food operators the James family saw burger sales plummet by 30% last March and were forced, reluctantly, to switch to imported beef in their outlets.n

Geoff and Frazer James with their Limousin cattle – chosen for their ability to produce high quality carcasses.