Performance, soundness and conformation need to go hand in hand – this was the message from the Sussex Cattle Society “Breeding Bull Selection Day” held at Holm Place, Sheerness by the kind invitation of Mr and Mrs Lewis.
Mr John Lewis explained his criterion when it comes to selecting breeding bulls.
- Firstly – look at performance data – no progress can be made if animals with below average EBVs are used for breeding purposes.
- Secondly –check their soundness. Feet and locomotion are important; as are the soundness of their testicles – ensuring they are large, even and toned.
- Thirdly – look at the conformation of the animal. Ensure they have plenty of length from hip to pin, are parallel top and bottom and have a good depth of loin. Avoid cattle there are excessively gutty or lack even muscling down the back – particularly behind the shoulder, the so called “devils grip”.
Bull selection starts the day a calf is born and continues throughout its life – as breeders check and re-evaluate growth and conformation as calves mature.
Select cattle in the environment where they are expected to perform
At Holm Place calves are born by October and spend winter outside. Cows have to outwinter on blocks and hay. Even young bulls tend to spend much of their life outdoors behind post and wire – getting ready for their working life in the field. These aren’t the easiest conditions for cattle – and the environment soon identifies those that can perform and those that find life hard.
John was once told that from the point of view of forage availability that Holm Place was probably one of the hardest farms under which pedigree cattle were being performance recorded – but perform they do . This is a fantastic example of why breeders must change their cattle to fit their system – not the other way round.
Fortunately the same nutritional challenge is not applied to those visiting Holm Place. It should be noted that no less than three different soups and five types of cake were on offer for those hardy and extremely grateful souls that ventured back to the farmhouse to thaw out.
Sam Boon – Signet