South Devons are in demand as farmers set up sucker herds
INTEREST in South Devon cattle is snowballing as farmers, disillusioned with the price of bought-in stock, set up suckler herds and breed replacements.
The breeds ability to thrive on low inputs, its docility and low incidence of BSE have contributed to its popularity, says auctioneer Keith Flemington of Bruton Knowles.
New buyers were out in force at the recent reduction of Alex Fosters Fosmac herd at Blakesley, Northants. Topping the bidding at 1450gns was Dorothy Trevowah, a daughter of Brookhay Bomber, sold with a month-old heifer calf at foot.
And a collective sale of females at Gloucester last week saw a top of 1000gns paid for a 1996-born heifer. That heifers mother had 14 unassisted calvings – and such longevity is a big attribute, says Mr Flemington. "Its expensive when a cow only works for a few years before going into the OTMS incinerator."
One new buyer at the Fosmac event was Paul Harvey, manager for the Groby Estate, Leicester. He used to buy stores for finishing. Not any more, however.
After the BSE crisis erupted, margins dropped to just £20 or £30 an animal. "When you bear in mind the investment in the animals, the figures didnt stack up," says Mr Harvey.
He bought six heifers from the Fosmac herd and plans now to build up to about 50, AIing them to an Aberdeen-Angus. "I want to supply a quality product that the consumer will pay a premium for. I just hope that not too many people have the same idea.
"We have some high, rough grazing, so we can maximise use of it without concentrates. The South Devon can rough it a bit."
Other factors cited by Mr Harvey are the breeds mothering abilities, its low BSE association and its ease of management. "We want to finish them off grass, with minimal use of fertiliser – and maybe try to finish them on an organic system in future."
Another buyer at the Fosmac auction was Mike Ferrand, livestock manager for Doncaster-based Foers & Son. Having bought their first South Devon last May, numbers now total more than 90 cows and heifers. The aim is about 100. Some of these have been bought "fairly cheaply", says Mr Ferrand, with between £600 and £800 paid for cows with calves.
Breeding replacements avoids having to buy store stock and avoids the risk of bringing in disease, says Mr Ferrand, who went home with four cattle from the Fosmac auction.
• More than 50 South Devons will be on offer for the Herd Book Society and the Midland Club at Brettles Farm, Shatterford, Worcs tomorrow (May 9).
Leading averages: £
Cows with heifer calves 996
Cows with bull calves 896
Two-year-old bulling heifers 751
Keith Flemington and herd manager Keith McDougall with the top-price South Devon cow and calf at the Fosmac sale. Bidding rose to 1450gns.