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The Black Ven herd, owned by the Buchanan family of Nutley, East Sussex has been recognised by AHDB Beef and Lamb as the Most Improved Herd of Sussex cattle in England for 2014.

Black Ven farm was purchased in 1976, by Libby and her late husband, Bill Buchanan. The farm is currently managed by Libby and her daughter Elizabeth. With 300 acres of organic grassland, the farm is ideally suited for beef and sheep production. In addition to permanent pasture, the farm has 50 acres of woodland, which is managed by Libby’s son Jamie.

The Black Ven Sussex Cattle Herd was established in 1977 by Libby, when she wanted a native breed well suited to the soil and grassland of Sussex. The herd originates from four Sussex cows bought in at this time, with four heifer calves at foot. The herd now consists of 30 breeding cows and 46 followers, and have been found to be well suited to the system. The Sussex breed thrives off grass so they avoid the unnecessary cost of concentrate except for any bulls being reared for breeding.

In addition to cattle, the farm also has a sheep enterprise, with a flock of 55 Mule and Suffolk ewes crossed onto Southdowns for commercial lamb production.

The Black Ven herd has been performance recorded since 2000, and it has seen a massive improvement in recent years. The Black Ven cows have good maternal production value figures, providing an animal’s economic value in terms of its genetic potential to produce females for breeding and animals with quality beef carcase characteristics. Last year 13 out of 23 dams were in the top 10% of the whole breed.

Trottenden Formidable, a sire widely used in the herd, is just outside top 10% for beef value, and to date 2013 and 2014 calves are showing good maternal production values.

Based on estimated breeding values (EBVs), bull calves from cows with high figures and strong family lines will be given a chance to grow on, although the majority of bull calves are castrated at birth. Four have been kept entire this year with some promising young examples from their sire “Formidable”.

Both beef production traits and maternal traits are regarded as important within the herd. The beef value is held in high regard as primarily, the enterprise focuses on Organic beef production. Maternal traits play an important part giving the calf the start it needs to develop into a strong animal.

“Through performance recording, breeders have access to more tools in their toolbox,” states Elizabeth.

“This provides informed guidance when breeders make selections on heifer replacements and which productive mothers to retain in the herd.”

In the future the family hopes to move toward finishing their own animals, with an objective of rearing more bulls in order to maximise income from the farm.

The Buchanan family is on a continuing mission of constant improvement for their organic herd. Using the Signet performance data combined with a relentless focus on management, their ambitions are looking very achievable.