Simmental out to meet customer requirements
By Marianne Curtis
WHAT do commercial suckler producers want from their beef sires?
That was the question posed by the Simmental Society in a recent survey conducted to ensure that the breed better meets customer requirements.
Keen to produce a plan outlining goals for Simmental breeders, Simmental Society general secretary Roger Trewhella invited 200 commercial and pedigree suckler producers to a series of meetings.
"One-third of these already used Simmentals and the rest other breeds. They were satisfied with what Simmentals have to offer in terms of fertility, milking and docility but wanted to see an improvement in carcass conformation."
Recent abattoir data confirms that Simmentals are achieving carcass grades that are on a par with Limousins and Charolais, according to Mr Trewhella. "Abattoir data on 50,000 steers from four terminal sire breeds showed that 87% of Simmental sired steers graded E, U or R and 76% achieved a fat level of three or better."
Simmentals are often found on lowland mixed farms which sell to abattoirs rather than through auction markets and this may explain why it is less popular than other terminal sire breeds, he believes.
"Nearly everyone used to sell cattle through auction markets but few Simmentals were sold via this route. It seemed to be a case of out of sight, out of mind and people under-estimated their potential."
But Mr Trewhella admits there is room for an improvement in the breeds conformation. "We want to shift breeders focus towards improving growth rate and conformation traits while protecting maternal traits and keeping them at or close to breed average."
Maternal traits will remain important as quality suckler cow replacements become scarce, says MLC beef scientist Duncan Pullar. "Producers looking for better conformation can safely select bulls with average scores for maternal traits but a high muscling score."
Having a clear sense of direction for the breed is vital, adds Dr Pullar. "The Simmental is in third place in terms of numbers of progeny slaughtered and their performance, but not by much. Having an overt plan of action on breeding, which few other breed societies have, means that with a collective effort it could move ahead of other breeds."
Convincing large commercial suckler herds of the benefits of Simmentals will form part of a new offensive by its breed society. "We targeted 200 producers with at least 165 suckler cows each and sent them a questionnaire."
Questions included what weights cattle are sold at, finishing systems and what criteria are used to select bulls. Mr Trewhella will maintain regular contact with them and target the top 5000 commercial suckler herds in the UK.
"These producers will be sent newsletters and regional members of the Simmental Society will keep in touch with them."
Simmental breeders will be able to receive advice and monitor progress by attending meetings conducted by a Signet consultant, he adds.
Adding value to their services will become an increasingly important function of successful breed societies, believes Dr Pullar.
"Members will come to expect a service beyond pedigree registration. Societies must have vision, understanding what breeders customers require as the future is likely to be breed against breed."
• Focus on conformation.
• Maintain maternal traits.
• Understand customer needs.