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Breeding plan certainly works
CATTLE breeding family the Braithwaites, who live near Bewdley, have plenty to celebrate.
Their Highfield herd has been recognised by EBLEX (the organisation for the English beef and sheep meat industry) as the most improved herd of Hereford cattle for 2011.
The accolade is given through the Beef Better Returns Programme to the recorded herd that shows the greatest genetic gain for commercial traits over a 12-month period. There is a separate award for each of 10 UK breeds.
Ian Braithwaite is the third generation to farm near Bewdley and he currently manages two farms, two miles apart with 73ha (180 acres) of part-owned and partrented land. The Hereford herd was established in 2004 with 14 cows after the Braithwaites gave up dairying. More pedigree cows were purchased from the Belldo, Border, Westwood and Lower Hope herds, with buying decisions made in those days mainly on look, type and the reputation of the herd.
Having worked with Herefords whilst on work placement in Australia, Mr Braithwaite was impressed by their utilisation of grass, easy management, natural fleshing and low input finishing requirements.
Estimated breeding values (EBVs) have allowed Mr Braithwaite to be more selective when deciding which females to retain. Heifers are selected at weaning and reared naturally on grass with no supplementary feeding. Females not kept for breeding are finished to 600kg.
Mr Braithwaite said: “We can see significant differences in the herd now, compared with the years before we started recording.
“Historically we put a lot of emphasis on the bull and very little on the female. Now, I find performance recording useful for evaluating the female side, especially for traits such as milk production.”
Drawing on his experience as a dairy farmer, Mr Braithwaite AIs the cows himself, using semen from Canada and Australia. Any returns run with the stock bull.
Bulls are also chosen on the basis of EBVs and matched to appropriate cows to ensure herd performance continues to improve.
One bull Dorpoll Patriat, bought as a two-year-old has positive EBVs on milking ability and is in the top one per cent in the country for overall EBVs at more than 85.
Customers for Highfield Herefords include dairy farmers looking for good crossing sires, as well as commercial and pedigree beef producers. They buy privately and through the Hereford sales and the calf show at Shrewsbury Livestock Market.
All animals are sold ‘straight from the field’ and not pushed with feed beforehand, as Mr Braithwaite would rather they expressed their attributes naturally off grass.
He said: “I would like to attend more shows in future. My children are keen to be involved and I want to encourage them to continue with the herd now that recording has put us on the right track.”
EBLEX breeding specialist Samuel Boon said: “The Braithwaites have done a great job upgrading the genetics in their herd.”