Organic, pedigree and Simmental are three words that rarely go hand in hand, but for a Wiltshire couple it’s their plan for success
Investing £110,000 in a new organic pedigree herd may sound like madness to some livestock producers, but for David and Nikky Field it’s the way forward to secure a profitable business.
Having released funds from the sale of an organic commercial suckler herd and sheep flock, the Fields have been on a mammoth spending spree since November last year securing pedigree Simmental females to start their new Burytown organic herd.
“We always knew this would be difficult, as the numbers of organic Simmental cattle simply aren’t out there and although calving down 50 or so heifers is a huge gamble, it’s better than spending the next 20 years or so grading up a smaller herd,” admits Mr Field.
In normal circumstances, this wouldn’t have been allowed, but because Burytown Farm, just outside Swindon, already had organic status for the previous enterprises, a special derogation from the Soil Association was obtained.
“This meant we have had a year to purchase non-organic maiden or in-calf heifers, as well as males, to then grade up in to organic status after calving.”
To date the couple have bought 53 pedigree heifers mostly through Carlisle and Perth Simmental Society Sales, as well as a few privately. “We’ve made no secret of the fact we’ve spent money and although £110,000 is a large sum, we’ve averaged 2000gns a head at sales, which in pedigree terms isn’t that scary a figure,” reckons Mrs Field.
Having bought many impressive pedigrees – including prefixes such as Sterling, Tillymaud, Glenturk, Kilbride Farm, Sherrington, Annick and Blair – their most impressive acquisition was the top-priced Simmental bull from Perth in February, Dirnanean Typhoon bought at 22,000gns.
“We chose Typhoon for his genetics, style, locomotion and breeding figures. But although he will complement many females in the herd, he won’t be the only bull we use,” says Mr Field.
Having both had careers in genetics, albeit in the pig sector working for PIC, the Field’s are no strangers to genetic development. “I’ve undertaken a DIY AI course and have scoured the breeding companies’ semen flasks for some of the best Simmental genetics money can buy, including some real golden oldies,” adds Mrs Field.
Although maintaining a strong pedigree emphasis is one of the main ambitions, the herd will be run from a commercial angle. The couple are adamant there is no reason why organic status should deter them from breeding the best cattle for show and sale, as well as producing quality carcasses from steers to meet supermarket specification.
“There is a huge misconception surrounding the organic label, with many saying if you’re organic you surely can’t produce enough,” quips Mr Field.
But we have grass in abundance and grow our own arable crops, namely beans, oats, barley and wheat, to reduce the need for expensive bought-in organic concentrates.”
And when it comes to manure use, the Field’s have that down to a fine art by composting the deep-littered beds for spreading back on to grazing land as a soil conditioner. “Having had the grass and silage analysed we also know our soil deficiencies, so the only bought in product is a mineral mix to help supplement the home-mixed diet,” he adds.
“But we must also capitalise on our region in terms of bull sales, as we’re surrounded by dairymen as well as other organic herds, while the higher-end pedigree bulls will be aimed at the bull sale market,” says Mrs Field.
Decisions will be made early in a bull’s life as to whether it will make the grade, and those that don’t will be steered and sold deadweight to St Merryn Meats for Tesco’s organic brand.
The couple have also made no secret of their desire to show stock. “With bluetongue affecting everybody in some way or other, the focus has to be on vaccination and the sooner we can get that insurance policy the better,” she says.
So the plan is to start small by supporting local shows. “We’re determined to fly the flag for the organic Simmental,” adds Mr Field.
“It will take time and no doubt we’ll make some mistakes along the way. But it’s vital we only ever offer the best genetics for show or sale, after all we’ve invested our name in to this enterprise as well as a huge amount of cash.”