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Recording a large beef herd

The Elbridge herd is one of the largest Sussex cattle herds in the country. The farm is run by James and Clare Holdstock with the help of their daughter Verity and son George, who have returned to the farm over the last couple of years. The business farms around 1800 acres, with arable, potatoes and top fruit running alongside the cattle. The herd was established in 1946 when John Holdstock, (James’ father and the son referred to in E H Holdstock & Son) bought his first four Sussex females. The herd has now grown to 200 breeding cows, which are split between spring and autumn calving. In spring 2015, the daily management of the herd was taken over by Martin Russell, who has brought great dedication and enthusiasm for herd improvement.

“We see that the huge advantage of the Sussex breed is their ability to thrive on extensive rearing systems not requiring large quantities of manufactured concentrates. Quite a lot of our summer grazing for the cows is on poor quality pasture and this is where the Sussex’s thriftiness comes into its own,” says Verity.

“The Elbridge Herd was one of the first herds to join the Signet weight recording scheme. This has been a very useful tool when making comparisons between animals, prior to selection, for both bulls and heifers. Over the years, both frame and type have improved and liveweight gain has increased despite minimal concentrate use.

“Signet gives us a framework so that we can benchmark our herd against others and see where our strengths and weaknesses lie. It is also a great tool when looking at buying in animals, as it gives us confidence in the breeding value of the animal and how it will benefit our herd. In our breeding objectives we aim to maintain the desirable Sussex traits of good temperament, milkiness, sound feet, longevity and good food conversion, while improving frame and shape. We keep many of our own heifers as replacements, as well as selling individuals and batches to other breeders. Over the years we have found that the Signet cow maternal value is a great starting point for selecting heifers.

Holdstocks Bull

“We keep a large proportion of bull calves entire, meaning that we have greater choice when selecting breeding bulls. We select bulls that strike a balance between good muscular shape and frame size. Signet ultrasound scanning is very beneficial when it comes to selecting bulls and provides factual figures on muscle depth, which aids the selection process alongside the breeder’s eye. Over the last year we have been putting additional focus back into our breeding bull selection, something which has been reflected in our weight and scanning figures.

Holdstocks calf

“We had a short period where we didn’t scan or record our weights through Signet, but having now returned to the programme, the benefits are clear and it is good to see that our figures have continued to improve.” (See figure 1 & 2)

The overall performance of cattle within the Elbridge herd has vastly improved over time. This is consistent with the improvements made within the recorded Sussex cattle population as a whole. Both 200-and 400-day growth rates have shown a dramatic increase and, with the improvement of muscle depth across the loin, it is clear to see that Elbridge herd has a strong future and will provide an excellent advert for the Sussex breed.

Figure 1: A graph to show improvements in growth rates in the Elbridge herd

Holdstocks Growth graph

Figure 2: A graph to show increases in muscle depth in the Elbridge herd

Holdstocks muscle graph

For more information about Signet’s beef recording and ultrasound service, please contact Steve West at [email protected] or call 02476 478829.