Opinion: Stabilisers may be needed to steady our suckler market
Last week, I attended an Open Day for a breed of cattle I have only recently heard of, Stabilisers. I came away asking if they could be the saviour of commercial Irish suckler farming?
Stabilisers look small and plain, especially the calves. However, Antrim farmer Billy O'Kane, who's been farming Stabilisers for the past 12 years, has a different take: "They are a bank manager's breed, not a red rosette breed."
The underlying principle of Irish suckler production has long been cross-breeding; marrying the good bits of both parents to produce a marketable offspring whilst maintaining hybrid vigour.
But what if, instead of repeatedly reinventing the wheel, there was a breed which had the benefits of cross-breeding without having to cross-breed and, also, that the offspring is more uniform.
Stabilisers claim to combine the fleshing ability, marbling, and moderate size of the British breeds with the muscle, growth and efficiency of the Continental breeds, whilst retaining 75pc of the hybrid vigour of a first cross.
A smaller cow means a smaller carcass. But this is what we are being told the market wants. Smaller cows mean you can keep more of them so total output is not compromised.
Instead of trying to sell the kind of carcass that we want to supply because this is what we are used to producing, could we supply what the factories want… and make more money?
Could this be possible and, moreover, could it form the basis for a premium, identifiable, Irish suckled beef animal, raised on grass by its own dam, which has no dairy input.