Temperament - commercial demand for a quiet, functional suckler cow
Hawthorne Gardens, Crediton, Devon
35 Beef Shorthorn breeding females
100 acres grassland
200 acres cropping
Farm shop and café, seasonal PYO
Beef Shorthorn has huge potential in the South West; it’s an opportunity that continues to remain untapped, says Anthony Thorne. “Whilst Continental cattle dominate the suckler scene, they lack milk, their temperament is questionable and they tend to be large framed and subsequently less efficient than a small to medium size cow.
“In fact, it’s temperament that is amongst commercial producers’ top criteria when they approach me to buy Beef Shorthorn. I am selling bulls to all manner of farmers, from those with Continental as well as native herds and to fellow pedigree breeders.
“These producers are often working on their own and some are of a certain age, however they all have one thing in common - they’re looking for a quiet animal. They are also searching for one that can calve easily, has milk and can survive on a pure forage diet. Beef Shorthorn perfectly fits the bill.”
Those types and traits are equally important to Anthony who runs the 35-cow pedigree Stockleigh herd alongside a busy farming business, a farm shop and café, and seasonal PYO. “I manage the herd on my own, and whilst time is scarce the cattle are not labour intensive, they suit low input systems like mine. They tend to calve on their own, and as I’m moving from all autumn to all spring calving, they will go straight out to grass.
“My breeding objective for herd is to select the best cows to produce breeding heifers and bulls for commercial producers. I’m focused on improving our cow families by introducing bulls within the breed’s top 15%, in particular for ease of calving and milk traits.
“I have also had the herd linear classified and find it really useful to have an independent person look at an animal and identify their merits. It’s proving to be a great selection tool and we aim for the entire herd to classify 90 + and Excellent. In fact, one of our cows achieved the first ever EX92, and linear classification was introduced to the selection criteria when we chose our new herd sire, Redhill Lord Langley - his dam was EX92.”
Anthony comes from a dairy and beef farming background and initially established his own enterprise over 30 years with a small strawberry enterprise. The soft fruit expanded, vegetables followed and today the business spans over 200 acres growing produce for regional wholesale and retail outlets including farm shops and restaurants. A further 100 acres is in grass.
He explains: “I achieved a lifelong ambition to breed Beef Shorthorn when I established the Stockleigh herd back in 2008. I had looked at a number of other breeds, however I had a great love for Beef Shorthorn primarily for their quiet nature and the fact they are a bit special - they have a fascinating history having been recorded for over 200 years and being the oldest herdbook in the world.
“After investing in the foundation cows, herd health was a priority and I immediately joined a CHeCS scheme to eliminate the four major diseases - BVD, IBR, Johne’s and Lepto. The herd is now fully accredited giving confidence to both myself and our customers.”
Longevity is also clearly apparent. “Many of the original cows still remain in the herd, some have reached up to 13 years whilst the average age is 10 to 11 years, they are in calf, and they continue to have good feet and udders.
“The herd thrives on pure forage diets - Beef Shorthorn are very good foragers and they over winter on silage plus minerals. Furthermore, we have finished the steers and found they are good converters of grass in to meat.” Stocking capacity has since led Anthony to trade the steers to a neighbour for finishing. Branded Beef Shorthorn beef has been made available from time to time in the farm shop and M&S has also bought Anthony’s stock through the Hatherleigh abbatoir.”