Crossbred Blonde calves
Blonde d'Aquitaine bulls are the tried and tested sire
for Roland Telford on his herd of more than 400 suckler cows
run in the foothills of the Cheviot hills in Northumberland.
The herd at Branton East Side, Powburn, near Alnwick, has expanded
to 420 cows in recent years - and now all nine stock bulls
are pedigree Blondes which Mr Telford finds produce easily calved
and easily managed progeny that still provide a return comparable
with other continental crosses when sold as suckled calves.
Mr Telford and his wife Kathleen farm 3,000 acres, 860 of which
are family owner-occupied, on the edge of the Cheviot hills.
The farm employs three shepherds and three general workers, with
no contractors employed.
The farm is a mix of lowland and LFA with the suckler herd grazing
the higher ground during the summer and the Blonde crosses have
proved to be the ideal calf.
“We have found by using the Blonde bull that the cows
are easier calving and as a result the cows live longer. The
growth rates of the calves are very good and they have the potential
to put on good flesh and weight with the killing out percentage
of the cattle a good selling point,” said Mr Telford.
“With the Single Farm Payment and the second beef premium
no longer being an issue, producers will be pushing their cattle
on to finish quicker on reasonably intensive systems - which
should come out in favour of the Blonde breed with its fast finishing
qualities at good weights and good killing out percentages,” he
The suckler herd was originally made up of Irish cross cows,
however to help minimise disease risks, home-bred heifers mainly
Limousin cross out of Friesian and Holstein cows are now sourced
mainly from breeders through Carlisle market and privately in
A herd of 90 cows, mainly Simmental crosses, was taken on in
2002 with an extra 600 acres of land.
“We fell into the Blondes almost by accident more than
20 years ago. We had been using predominantly Charolais bulls
on our cows and the Hereford on the heifers. We bought a Limousin
and a Blonde bull at the same time but we found that the Blondes
“At the time I farmed with my father and brother and we
had a lot of hill land some of which I continued to farm when
we split the partnership when my father retired in the mid 1980s.
The majority of my suckler herd was on quite high ground and
I felt that the cows were not able to do so well when suckling
the larger-boned Charolais calves as with Blonde calves.
“I was also finishing cattle on low-lying land near the
coast at Beadnell and I thought the Blonde crosses were doing
the best and we were getting more per kg. As a result, every
time I needed to replace a bull I bought the best Blonde I could
get,” said Mr Telford.
“I look for bulls with a good top which are not too narrow
while length and lack of belly are a natural breed trait.”
Current stock bulls are by Ballygowan Noble, Whistley Dollar,
Druk Lance and the French bred bull Everest - Mr Telford
is prepared to pay a good price for a top Blonde bull but he
believes he would have to pay nearly twice that for the length
and quality from another continental breed.
The most recent two stock bulls were bought from George Hamilton,
of Ramrigg. They were the herd's three and an half year
old stock bull as well as a bull bred by Mr Hamilton from an
in-calf heifer - both were from the County Durham based
Hallfield herd of James Weightman.
By the mid 1990s, the suckler herd had expanded to 300 cows
following the purchase of more land at Branton and while some
heifers were still finished on the farm, suckled calves were
also sold through Wooler Mart's autumn and spring sales.
Currently, all the progeny are sold as suckled calves, either
through Wooler or privately.
Of the herd, 220 calve in the spring from mid March to mid June,
with the remainder calving from the end of August through September
and October. The aim is for a nine to 12 week calving period.
Assisted calvings count for as little as 10 per cent of the herd.
Spring-born calves are sold the following February and March
at 10 to 12 months old after weaning in January - leaving
the calves on their mothers after housing has been found to reduce
The autumn-born calves are weaned in mid August and are sold
in October. All cows are winter housed and the spring calvers
are inoculated with Rotavec against scour.
Only the autumn-born calves are creep fed receiving less than
a kg a day of a home-grown barley mix with the spring calves
going out to graze the hill with their mothers.
Calves are weighed when handled on a tray in a race and generally
average a liveweight gain of 1kg-plus a day from birth to sale
for steers and approaching 1kg a day for heifers and their sale
weights are equivalent to other larger continental beef breeds,
says Mr Telford
The 180 calves sold in October 2004 averaged £510 for
steers and £430 for heifers.
With 400 acres of cereals grown at Branton East Side, Mr Telford
can also keep his options open under the new Single Farm Payment
regime and cut cow numbers and finish his cattle.
“I would stick with the Blonde because I know how well
they finish but at the moment if I can sell a store calf at 10
to 14 months old at about £500 for a steer and £400
for a heifer then I will continue to sell the calves.
“It also depends on what it costs you to winter a cow
and we have got land which suits suckler cows.”
Another incentive to maintain suckler herd numbers will be the
lifting of the Over Thirty Months Scheme. An extra £200
per cow could go further towards herd replacement costs.
The suckler herd also improves the grazing for the farm's
2,200 ewes and 600 ewe hoggs, 850 of which are North Country
Cheviots, a further 850 Blackface plus 500 Mule and crossbred
ewes, with 300ewe lambs and 300 gimmers sold annually along with
up to 2,500 finished lambs.
© Copyright 2005 Jennifer
MacKenzie All Rights Reserved.