A-A replacements pay off
Forming a closed herd to bred herd replacements will pay dividends, believes one Lancashire producer. Jeremy Hunt reports
ADVANTAGES of a closed nucleus of breeding stock are nothing new to Lancs hill farmer Jim Curwen.
It is a policy that has proved successful for the Swaledale flock running on Marshaw Farms 930ha (2300 acres) of fell and 283ha (700 acres) of in-bye at Abbeystead near Lancaster, and the same principle is now being applied to the suckler herd.
The family has always favoured Aberdeen-Angus x Friesian sucklers. Replacements for the 100-strong herd have usually been bought-in as calves or as bulling heifers. The Curwens small herd of pedigree Belgian Blues has provided terminal sires in recent years.
But Mr Curwens interest in the Angus has strengthened since his chance introduction to the pedigree cattle run in John Moores Moss herd at Formby, Merseyside. Impressed by the size and conformation of A-A females which were spotted while checking Swaledales on winter keep at Formby last year, Mr Curwen was led to consider the breeds potential as a purebred to replace crossbred sucklers and overcome the need to buy in replacements. A more thorough herd inspection of the Moss cattle and advice from their herd manager Angus Baillie was sufficient to initiate a new suckler policy at Marshaw Farm. A bunch of foundation females was bought from the Moss herd and the first calves were born last spring.
"We believe the pure Aberdeen-Angus cow is the ideal suckler for our situation. She has a quiet temperament, is a protective mother and a good milker. But her biggest assets must be her ease of management, hardiness and ability to thrive outdoors.
"Concentrating on a purebred suckler cow will eliminate health risks from bought-in stock, provide us with a cow of superior conformation, enable us to be more selective and produce a beef animal backed up by successful branded marketing schemes," he says.
There are now 40 pedigree Aberdeen-Angus cows at Marshaw Farm. The intention is to replace all crossbred sucklers with purereds and to record the herd with Signet.
At Perth this February, Mr Curwen made his biggest commitment yet to the Angus and paid 8000gns for the bull Warlover of Haymount from Tom Arnotts herd at Kelso. Before travelling to Perth, Mr Curwen had selected several bulls on EBV figures in the sale catalogue. The bull he bought, which was bred by the judge and so was not shown, is from a non-recorded herd.
"Our Perth purchase is by Windover of Haymount, a son of Windover Justifier, who is a trait leader for muscling. The bull at Perth stood out for his exceptional shape and fleshing. His lack of records does not affect my commitment to recording. Figures will play an important part of future selection criteria, particularly where bulls are being bought to breed female herd replacements."
One area of recording that does concern Mr Curwen is the emphasis being placed on backfat scanning figures. "I hope the breed does not go too far down the road of leanness. I do not really want to see cows too lean, or we could jeopardise the breeds hardiness and ability to thrive outside and hold their condition and fleshing. These are the breeds strengths, which we must maintain at all costs. A compromise must be reached."
Aberdeen-Angus bull Warlover of Haymount is a key part of Jim Curwens new replacement heifer policy, which will be based on purebred stock.
• Reduces disease risk.
• Select for better animals.
• Better herd conformation.