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Easy fleshing nature prompts Shorthorns return to historic home

Docility and the ability to thrive and finish at grass make Beef Shorthorns the ideal breed for Waddesdon Estates’ suckler herd.

Tom Mansfield

The Buckinghamshire-based 65-cow herd, managed by Tom Mansfield alongside a 1,200-ewe flock, was introduced on to the estate to utilise both permanent pasture and herbal leys within the arable rotation.

“Lady Alice Rothschild had a noted herd of Beef Shorthorns on the estate back in the 1920s, so going back into the breed was a natural choice,” explains Tom.

Today, with 900 acres of permanent pasture and about 250 acres of herbal leys, the cattle are used to convert this forage into high quality meat to be sold in the Five Arrows Hotel and at Waddesdon and via the private events team.

“Without a doubt Shorthorns are a good fit. They are docile and easy to work with and the meat quality is exceptional,” says Tom.

And, with the Estate’s permanent pasture criss-crossed by public footpaths the docile nature of the cows, even with calves at foot, means cattle grazing can include areas of public access, which adds greatly to the flexibility of herd management.

Adding to the appeal of the breed is the natural fleshing they offer which aids early growth without the need for creep feed.

“We aim to calve heifers at two years old, with the oldest of them getting to 28 months before calving. Everything is bulled on weight, rather than age, aiming to bull heifers at 400kg.

This more moderate size is critical when outwintering, with everything aged 12-24 months kept out over winter, grazing either herbal leys within the arable rotation or permanent pasture, depending on weather and ground conditions.

“Most of the ground we graze is heavy clay, so we have to be careful over winter and have changed how we supplement outwintered cattle in recent years to reduce the impact they make.

We’ve moved from feeding silage in ring feeders to using a bale unroller and have seen a significant difference in the impact on the ground. We work on the basis of thirds, with cattle eating a third, wasting a third and trampling a third, which might sound wasteful, but those two thirds the cattle aren’t eating are going back into the ground, helping improve soil condition over time, which in turn, will mean we can maximise grass growth and outwintering in future years,” he adds.

Currently about half of the bullocks are finished each year, with the other half sold as stores at 600-650kg through Thame Market where Tom says they meet a ready demand. “We bull all the heifers, selling a number of those as in-calf heifers, both privately and through Thame.

“Long-term the aim will be to finish all the bullocks ourselves once we have sufficient demand. We currently finish bullocks at up to 28 months old, selecting prime cattle by cover rather than age or weight. The youngest would be about 20 months old, with the aim being to finish them at grass without the need for supplementary feeding.

And while the herd has pedigree status Tom says all male calves are castrated rather than being left to make bulls. “We castrate everything for easier and more efficient management.

Calving inside in from mid-March onwards Tom aims to turn cows and calves out at about 14 days old. “The sooner I can get them out the sooner they can start making use of grazed grass. Cows and calves run at grass until late October when they’re weaned, with calves offered no creep feed over the summer.

“Calves are housed over their first winter and are fed on silage and homegrown cereals to grow them on, with cows also housed ahead of calving.”

With heifers retained Tom aims to source a new bull every couple of years to ensure fresh blood is coming through the herd, going back to regular sources. “I generally source bulls from a couple of herds I know and trust. Health status and herd management style are paramount as I want to ensure any bull I buy will fit in our system and their calves will too.

“We’re a high health herd, so buying anything in is always a risk, but by working with herds I know and trust I’m able to minimise that risk. We’re accredited for Johnes, BVD and IBR and tag test every calf for BVD, ensuring we maintain the herd’s status,” adds Tom.

FACTFILE

  • 4,500 acres farmed in-hand
  • 900 acres permanent pasture, 250 acres herbal leys
  • 65-cow Beef Shorthorn herd, plus followers
  • 1,200-ewe flock