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In pursuit of the perfect suckler cow

For many years David and Rachel Bushell, Llandeilo, have enjoyed success breeding high value beef animals reaching average liveweight gains of up to 1.8kg per day, resulting in slaughter at 12 months old with a killing out percentage of 64% and a final carcase weighing about 400kg. David explains their aim is to produce a carcase averaging a grade U and the couple has worked closely with their Cogent Genetic Consultant, Martin Ley, to breed the sort of animal capable of reaching their targets.

The Bushells use a Holstein cross British Blue suckler cow as their base, and heifer calves are bought through livestock markets to be reared as replacements. This however has caused some challenges in terms of health status and in recent years they have been faced with a high proportion of Johne’s Disease positive cows. David says: “Johne’s disease is costing me thousands, and unfortunately in the last few batches we have bought from markets, we could almost guarantee a couple of them would go down with Johne’s. I want to close the herd; we need to get away from buying in replacements.”

With this in mind, David and Rachel began their pursuit of the perfect suckler cow – a fertile animal with plenty of milk and good maternal instincts, which calves easily and produces a healthy calf which grows quickly and efficiently. Initially they had considered using a British Friesian across selected cows they wished to use to provide the next generation of their herd replacements; hoping to benefit from an injection of milk and more maternal capability.

However, taking into consideration David and Rachel’s requirements, Martin suggested the Stabiliser. Cogent has an exclusive partnership with the Stabiliser Cattle Company which gives them the sole right to market Stabiliser semen in the UK, this meant Martin was able to advise the Bushells on what the breed could offer. Famed for its docile nature and outstanding maternal qualities the popularity of the Stabiliser is growing year on year. Katie Grantham, of the Stabiliser Cattle Company, says: “The Stabiliser has a lot to offer and with the ability to select for traits such as birth weight, calving ease and maternal ability which are based on millions of data points, it gives you more control over the genetics you are bringing into your herd.”

“Although the focus for David and Rachel is heavily on the final carcase, the Stabiliser is capable of being everything in between. The goal is easy calving, producing a calf that suckles vigorously and a good cow that raises the calf well and converts feed efficiently.” She says the early maturing nature of the Stabiliser also means they are the perfect fit for David’s aim of further reducing his age at first calving from 26 months old to 24 months old. David says: “Most importantly what we want to get out of the Stabiliser is fertility, and I find them so easy to get in calf. The vigour and health of the calves is great too.” So far, they have been using Stabiliser semen on their herd since 2018 when they started by serving just three cows to Givendale Black Premier. Next year they will be calving 15 Stabiliser heifers to join the 65-strong herd. Rachel says: “From an efficiency perspective we wanted to breed a smaller cow, and we are now experimenting with whether they are capable of producing stock which can achieve similar performance levels to the current herd, but with all the added health benefits which come along with the Stabiliser.”

Currently the finishing animals are sired by Limousin or British Blue bulls, but David says the next step is to find the best cross onto the Stabiliser cow in order to produce a finished animal which meets the couple’s ambitious targets.

NWF Agriculture would like to thank David & Rachel Bushell for giving us an insight into their herd and thanks to Cogent for their contribution and partnership in this article.

For further information on maximising your suckler herd, get in touch with your NWF Sales Specialist or click HERE to view our Beef Feeds & Associated Products.

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