Farm Ireland

Tuesday 21 November 2017

What is the 'Stabiliser' beef breed and could it be an option for Irish suckler farmers

Morrisons supermarket
John Joyce

John Joyce

After a busy June, I took a few days off to look at some suckler cow herds in Yorkshire and Perth in Scotland.

The suckler cow in Scotland is still a highly valued animal.

The breed I am interested in is called 'Stabiliser'.

They are actually not a pure breed but a cow made up by four breeds, but the Stabiliser society is recognised as a pedigree breed organisation under EU regulations.

The cow is bred to have a moderate frame and be functional with calving ease, high fertility along with longevity.

Their offspring should have good growth and carcase merit. She is then well suited to be crossed with a terminal sire.

The four breeds that make up the Stabiliser are the Simmental, Red Angus, Hereford and Gelbvieh.

They were first bred in America by the Meat Animal Research Centre and established in Colorado by the Leechman Cattle Company.

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Their numbers have been slowly growing across Britain in the last few years.

The initial idea was to use a four breed composite to breed a predictable result - calves of the same shape, colour and grade.

With a lot of the store cattle in America going into feedlots, the feedlot owners like even batches of cattle and at the other end the factories like even batches of carcases.

In my own beef cattle there is huge variation in the weights of the carcases from the same stock bull.

The stock I looked at on one farm was remarkably even, the cows were red and all the calves were red in colour, albeit the breed can also be black.

But there are still only 52,000 registered Stabilisers in Britain on around 500 farms so the idea of the breed is still only gathering momentum.

On one of the farms I visited in Yorkshire, the Stabiliser suckler herd was used to utilise steep grassland on the farm. The farm manages to deliver high quality beef from a low cost production base.

One of the other pluses of the Stabiliser breed seems to be the high calf survival rate.

The farm I visited had been finding it difficult to source replacement heifers from the dairy herd especially with the high level of Holstein blood in the dairy herd.

They found high calving difficulties along with slow re-breeding and poor cow longevity with some of these dairy offspring replacements.

The group of farmers that I visited formed a group in which their beef is marketed locally under the Givendale Prime brand as a naturally reared with a high eating quality product.

The group supply Morrison's supermarket with both bulls and steers. Most of the heifers are kept or sold as replacements to other farmers.

No one breed is perfect, but I think all options should be looked at to keep the beef industry in Ireland moving forward.

Back on the farm all of the silage for the winter of 2018 has been gathered up with the slurry tanks emptied to the last.

The slurry was spread on the silage stubble at the rate of 2000 gallons per acre. It got some nice rain to gently wash it in and you can see the results in the aftergrass.

Next on the agenda is to get the dung spread lightly on two of the poorer fields. It might sound a little early, but I find it does a great job on these fields for the rest of the grazing season.

The calves are due their first wormer dose of the summer along with the yearling cattle before they are moved to fresh grass.

I find treating for lungworm at this stage of the grazing season really pays benefits later in the year. All cattle seem to be doing well except the yearling bullocks which are now off target.

John Joyce farms at Carrigahorig, Co Tipperary

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