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The Penhalveor herd, owned by Ashley and Hilary Wood of Redruth in Cornwall, has been recognised by AHDB Beef and Lamb as the Most Improved Herd of Stabiliser cattle in England for 2014.

Penhalveor farm was purchased by the Woods in 1977, with the original enterprise being a mixed breed store beef finishing enterprise, prior to a shift towards suckler beef production. The farm consists of 60 acres of permanent grassland, at approximately 500 feet above sea level.

Upon reading an article on Richard Fuller’s visit to the Leachman Cattle Ranch in Montana, USA, and his objectives of importing the Stabiliser genetics into the UK, the Woods became extremely interested in the breed and concept. Mr Fuller was contacted in order to source Stabiliser semen, with the first straws arriving on farm in 2002. The consistency of the progeny produced, and their low input requirements were deemed highly suitable to Penhalveor Farm’s permanent grassland system, and as a consequence the Penhalveor Stabiliser Herd was established.

Subsequent to the conversion to organic production in 2007, stock density on the farm was decreased, leaving a herd size of 40 cows and followers. This allowed marketing of the deadweight finished cattle as organic beef.

Discussing the breed, Hilary stated: “The hybrid vigour of these cattle is very impressive, and they have good growth rates.”

“Females retained for breeding are destined for a long career in the herd; typically they develop into fertile cows that calve easily, producing vigorous calves that grow quickly. They are good mothers with a quiet temperament; they milk well and are good on their feet. These factors are a necessity to promote longevity in the herd. We prefer to select for a polled type as this reduces management costs.”

The herd has been performance recorded with Signet since 2008. The Woods have always weighed and recorded their young stock as a matter of course, so were happy to adapt their management to incorporate birth, 200, 400 and 600 day weights. Since then they have benefitted from guidance from Richard Fuller which has proven useful to improve the base level across their herd.

Estimated Breeding Values have been utilised when selecting replacement heifers within the herd. These are combined with other factors when making the decision on which individuals to breed from in future. Maternal and growth trait EBVs are highly important to continue to progress the herd with regards to these attributes. Females must also have a good temperament and be correct in type with shoulder width and backend. This combination of breeding values, as well as phenotypic assessment, has served the herd well.

The Penhalveor herd stands comfortably within the top 10% of breed for beef value, and are almost within the top 1%. Recent sire selections, such as Givendale Louie and Givendale Immortal who currently stand in the top 1% and top 10% respectively for beef value, have helped to boost the genetic merit of progeny, and ensured that the herd is genetically on the front foot.

Hilary adds “Breeding values help to select the traits you want in your cattle, and they add interest to the job!”.

“The combination of the Stabiliser attributes and the reduced costs of inputs have helped us to maintain viability under an organic system even though the size of the herd has been reduced,” concluded Ashley.