17 May 2002

Quality from a rare breed

By Jeremy HuntNorth-west correspondent

IN A break with tradition, after foot-and-mouth, a Cumbrian farming family is on a new course aimed at producing top quality suckled calves from a relatively unknown breed.

Although almost 100 black Limousin-cross suckler cows have returned to Richard Carruthers 133ha (320 acre) farm at Raw Foot, Bampton, Penrith, a smaller group of pale-brown coated cows and calves are less easily identified.

They are Bazadais cattle – a breed hailing from France. Their arrival at Raw Foot will enable Mr Carruthers to fulfil an ambition to produce suckled calves with none of the beefing qualities diluted through modern Holstein influence.

"I have always thought it was a ridiculous situation that the UK suckler industry is dependent upon a by-product of the dairy industry. Although, we had become locked into buying suckler replacements bred out of Holstein-Friesian cows, it was something I wanted to change."

Restocking after F&M presented the opportunity to reassess the breeding of the suckler herd.

"I wanted a hardy, easy calving cow that would also produce a double-muscled crossbred calf. And I wanted a long breeding life – I was fed up with having to replace cows after three calves," says Mr Carruthers.

He seriously considered setting up a pure Limousin herd, but after a detailed evaluation of all other beef breeds available in the UK he settled on the Bazadais.

Although there are only a few herds in the UK and barely 300 head of cattle in total, Mr Carruthers visited as many breeders as he could.

"I saw some fantastic Bazadais cows, as good as any breed I have seen anywhere. And I found some outstanding Friesian x Bazadais heifers in calf to Bazadais to provide me with three-quarter-bred replacements to start a new herd." They were followed by 26 pure females bought from Bazadais stalwart Roy Gostling in Norfolk.

"The breed is renowned for its hardiness, easy calving and ability to finish off grass. They are quiet and easy calving even though they have very good muscling. They have a high killing out percentage between 63-67%. Bazadais beef is a lean, but well marbled meat."

Mr Carruthers aim is to establish a self-contained herd of 100 pure Bazadais cows, as well as putting a proportion to the Belgian Blue. Mature Bazadais cows weigh about 700kg.

To achieve the ideal cross, Mr Carruthers also visited Belgium to secure new Belgian Blue genetics for his re-established pedigree herd and to provide future sires for suckler enterprise.

Richard Carruthers is restocking with Bazadais and Bazadais cross cows to reduce Holstein influence and improve carcass quality.

&#8226 Hardy and easy calving.

&#8226 Make good sucklers.

&#8226 Three-quarter bred replacements.

When muscle & mobility combine

SUCKLED calf producers need a heavily muscled bull with adequate mobility, as well as power and presence, and thats what Richard Carruthers aimed to produce for commercial herds.

He established his Valley herd of Belgian Blues in the late 1980s with two cows. "My aim has always been to produce the very best type of Belgian Blue bull specifically for the suckled calf producer," he says.

"Mobility in the Belgian Blue was always the stumbling block for suckled calf producers who were afraid bulls would not be active enough. Mobility has improved, but producers have also come to accept that you cant have a breed with twice as much muscle as any other and expect it to walk like a racehorse."

Although he lost his herd to foot-and-mouth his most famous home-bred bull, Valley Pedro survived, as he was having semen collected at Cogents Stud in Cheshire, for sale through Supersires.

Pedro has a Beef Value of 26 – ranking him in the breeds top 1% on performance. He is by Savante and out of a home-bred cow ranked seventh on the breed societys sire and dam summary. "His high EBV has been his big appeal and his wide use has highlighted his ease of calving." &#42