Searching for a suckler cow?

Beef Shorthorn delivering commercial efficiency

Still searching for a functional suckler cow? Then Beef Shorthorn offers a solution says Ian Hollows from experience. Sixteen years on after investing in the breed, and he can vouch it is delivering in terms of efficiency to meet with commercial demand.

Ian and Nickie Hollows with a portion of their Holkin herd

Ian and Nickie Hollows with a portion of their Holkin herd

“Beef Shorthorn offers a natural package of maternal traits - milk and motherability which lead to good growth rates, females are easily calved and they go on to wean seven to eight-month-old calves at 50% of their own 650kg to 700kg mature bodyweight. They also have the ability to flourish on low input forage based diets and have an essential quiet temperament which is vital with fewer people working on farms - we need animals that are easy to handle.

“Those reasons alone have led us to witness a vast increase in demand for Beef Shorthorn; Defra reported a 1,400% increase in breeding females over the last 12 years, the highest of any native breed,” he explains. “Commercial producers are getting dissatisfied with Continental cross cattle and their negative impact within suckler herds.

“Furthermore, we used to farm another native breed, however mature cows were tipping the scales at 800kg, consequently we regarded them as too big and inefficient. We had reared some Beef Shorthorn and liked their performance so we decided to make the change.”

Ian, together with his wife, Nickie and son-in-law, Matthew manage their polled pedigree Holkin herd of 23 breeding females on pure commercial lines thriving on grazed grass and poor-quality forage on the family’s 70-acre holding Wood Farm, near Whitchurch. The enterprise evolves around breeding seed stock for commercial producers who have a keen awareness for a medium sized suckler cow.

“We have introduced a managed breeding programme whereby we have recently replaced our high EBV stock bulls with AI which provides us with flexibility and a much wider choice of genetics to develop a uniform herd; we are now using what we regard the best sires available in the UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand which in turn will enable us to speed up the herd’s genetic progress. Those sires are currently within the breed’s top 5% for gestation length, ease of calving, and also milk which is critical to growth rate since we don’t feed creep.

“Furthermore, AI has enabled us to synchronise the females which makes for better time management at calving and thereafter.

“Heifers are sufficiently mature for breeding purposes at 15 months of age at 450kg to 500kg, and they are all served to natural heat with sexed semen. We are keen to breed from heifers out of heifers and maintain a relatively young herd.”

Selection within the herd is facilitated by the use of Breedplan performance recording data which determines genetic potential, whilst the herd has been officially classified which enables selection according to phenotype. Health is also critical and Holkin is rated an Elite herd. “We keep focused on developing a uniform herd which exploits the breed’s key traits and is within its top 10%.”

Beef Shorthorn steers are sold on to the store market at 350kg to 380kg at eight to nine months of age. Ian says he has witnessed a price lift since Morrisons launched its Shorthorn Beef brand in the past two years enabling finishers to receive a premium on cattle within spec by a registered Beef Shorthorn sire.

The Hollows regard breeding pedigree Beef Shorthorn as a serious diversification enterprise away from their main business of supplying nutrients to the livestock sector. “We are busy people; we don’t have time for the showring, however we have achieved various successes within the breed society’s regional club awards. We also enjoy opening the farm gate to visits from other breeders, commercial producers and students alike, providing us with the opportunity to showcase Beef Shorthorn as a functional suckler cow.”