James Weightman endeavours to add value to the bulls in his herd of British Blonde cattle.
“We try to produce an animal suited to our customers’ demands,” said James. It is clear to see that this approach is providing results on his County Durham farm with three of his bulls topping the British Blonde Society show and sale at Carlisle recently. Hallfield bulls are in demand, both from commercial and pedigree producers.
The British Blonde herd at Hallfield Farm is long-established, with James’ father, Peter, importing the first heifers from France in 1974. The farm itself has been in the family since the 1960s, with the majority of land being used to grow cereals and some permanent pasture set aside for the beef breeding enterprise. Cattle numbers have grown from the small herd originally established and for the last 10 years around 40 calves have been registered each year.
The target buyer for Hallfield Blondes’ stock is a commercial producer and any animals sold to fellow pedigree producers is regarded as an added bonus.
“I believe that providing assurance to customers that they are purchasing high quality stock, with minimal risk is crucial for successful bull selling,” said James. Herd health and a disease-free status is a key focus on the farm and the entire herd is part of SRUCs Premium Cattle Health Scheme. The herd has been performance recorded by Signet since 1994 and this offers even more assurance to customers.
The collection of valuable performance information year on year has meant that the cattle James perceives to be real performers have moved to the top of the EBV rankings. This allows his customers to see exactly what genetics they are buying. Some of James’s best prices have come from animals with good figures, for example Hallfield Ironman, who sold for 5,000 guineas at Carlisle this year, stands in the top 10 per cent of the breed in terms of muscle depth. EBVs also aid in-breeding decisions at Hallfield farm with Hallfield Uproar, a homebred female with phenomenal genetic merit – Maternal Value in the top 1% of the breed and Beef Value in the top 10%, being one of the cows retained that went on to produce 9 calves.
It is not just the very top end of the Hallfield herd that have benefited from performance recording; the entire herd‘s genetics are being assessed. Performance recording has allowed James to breed for visual traits and production traits that are difficult to assess by eye. The average calving ease value for the entire herd is now in the top 25 per cent for the breed, as is the muscle depth EBV. Growth traits for the entire herd are also above the breed average. This shows that balancing traits such as growth and muscle with performance recording does not have to compromise ease of calving. Although useful as a herd management tool, James believes that the future of performance recording lies in the hands of bull buyers, he said: “It is the greater demand and understanding of EBVs from the commercial buyers that is absolutely key to widespread use of the technology.”