Weighton Wold Herd wins Most Improved Herd Award for the Stabiliser breed
The Weighton Wold Herd owned by R & J Farms Ltd, of Market Weighton in the East Riding of Yorkshire, has been recognised by AHDB Beef and Lamb as the Most improved Herd of Stabiliser cattle in England for 2012.
Robert Rook originally ran a dairy cross suckler herd, using terminal sires to produce a large calf for slaughter. But this was a labour intensive system and he wanted a more manageable and profitable cow. So when approached by Richard Fuller to help form the Stabiliser Cattle Company, he became involved in the company’s breeding programme − the focus of which is the economic production of consistently high quality beef cattle from forage-based systems. Mr Rook then became a director on the board of BIG Stabiliser Herd Improvement, and currently serves as chairman of the board.
The Weighton Wold Herd was established in 1999. Genetics were first introduced using semen imported from the United States on crossbred suckler cows. The herd became pure Stabiliser in 1995.
After graduating from Harper Adams in 2005, Edward Rook took over
management of the herd. Five years ago he decreased herd numbers to
concentrate on the best breeding lines and to produce uniform quality across the stock. Now numbers are building again – this year 140 will calve and the target is to reach 160-170 cows over the next three to four years.
The cows are housed for just 12-16 weeks a year, brought in at the end of January and they calve from mid-February. They are turned out when conditions allow from the end of March. They forage well and have a very efficient feed conversion rate. Housing, bedding and feed costs are kept to a minimum.
They also mature early, going to the bull at 14 months of age and producing their first calf at 24 months. With longevity in their genes, many are still producing calves at 11 years of age.
The Rooks’ have been using recording stock performance for ten years and use Estimated Breeding Values (EBVs) to help select the right animals to breed from.
“It is important to record performance to ensure the herd is progressing,” says Mr Rook. “I use the figures to make sure each cow is being mated with the right bull to produce progeny with superior performance.”
Looking at breed averages and EBVs, he concentrates on the top 10% for beef value and 200- and 400-day weights which give an indication of how quickly the calves are growing and the milk production of their dams.
The traits he wants to improve are milking ability, calving ease, maternal production value and longevity, as this helps with replacement costs. Out of 120 cows, he may replace only up to ten a year, and only then if they have become outclassed in terms of their genetic potential.
“The herd is now where I want it to be,” explains Mr Rook. “So I am looking to use performance recording to maintain current levels of performance.”
Bulls are bought in or home-bred. New bloodlines are introduced to avoid line breeding and to keep hybrid vigour. A bull is kept for around five years, unless he is breeding particularly well and producing elite stock, in which case he may stay longer. One of the bulls has been in the herd for eight years.
The stock bulls run with the main herd, whilst around 30 recipient cows are implanted with Stabiliser embryos in mid-June, before being turned out with a sweeper bull for a few weeks. Maintaining a tight calving period of around nine weeks provides a uniform batch of calves from which comparisons can easily be made.
Fifteen to 20 of the herd’s young bulls – deemed to be promising sires − go to the BIG Net Feed Efficiency unit at Wold Farm at the end of November and stay until March or April. Five or six from different bloodlines across the herd are selected and put on test to see how they are growing and developing when compared to others on the same trial.
Of the nineteen bulls sent last year, one was brought home to breed from, eight were sold to other breeders and the others were sent home to finish.
Males not selected for breeding in the September after they were born are castrated and fed a growing ration until mid-February or when they have reached 450kg liveweight. They are then finished on a maize-based TMR (Total Mixed Ration) to 600-650kg liveweight, grading R4L at slaughter.
Many of the Rook’s customers are newly registered Stabiliser breeders who are looking to achieve fast progress. They can access the performance figures through the Stabiliser Cattle Company website, then analyse the figures before viewing the animals at the farm. Some bulls also go to commercial herds.
“Breeders want what we all want,” Mr Rook says. “Quick, easy, efficient cattle that can realise a profit! I feel I am delivering a product that other producers want, and that can only be good for our business.”
Commenting on winning the award, Mr Rook said it was totally unexpected, and that he was very happy.
“It is good to know, from an organisation such as AHDB Beef and Lamb, that the herd is progressing in a positive way and that others acknowledge this success,” he said.
“In the past year I have taken more of a grasp of how EBVs work and what the industry is looking for. I have been more ruthless in culling out anything not breeding to potential, honing in on how individual animals perform, picking the right bulls for the right cows, and being careful not to take steps backwards.
“At only 28, it is nice to receive the recognition of my work so far,” said Mr.Rook. “I feel motivated and encouraged. Thank you!”
The award is presented by the AHDB Beef and Lamb Beef Better Returns Programme (Beef BRP) to the recorded herd that shows the greatest genetic gain for commercial characteristics over a 12-month period. There is a separate award for each of 11 UK breeds.