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    Gearing up for SFP with Charolais
03/05/06

Gearing up for the full impact of the new SFP regime and its implications by 2012 appears light years away for the majority of farmers, however at Hallbankgate, near Brampton, the Bell family are taking measures to improve their traditional hill farm’s efficiency and overall output.
The Bell family: Tom, Ian and Sophie, with Tom and Rachel.
The Bell family: Tom, Ian and Sophie, with Tom and Rachel.

“We’re aware that we can’t have a major influence on the market price we receive for our beef cattle and lambs, however one thing we can do is exploit our resources and improve output,” said Ian who farms in partnership with his father, Tom and uncle, Geoff a 500 acre LFA unit carrying a commercial herd of 100 sucklers that run alongside the 45 cow pedigree Hallbankgate Charolais herd and a flock of 550 ewes.

“We have recently benchmarked our unit alongside other hill units in the county and found that we are among the top 1pc in terms of output. It’s a position we want to remain in for the future,” he says.

Take the suckler enterprise, the Bells are currently putting their spring calving herd to the Charolais terminal sire to produce top quality stores, all of which are currently sold through the store ring at 11 months.

Last month in Carlisle their Charolais cross steers averaged 460kgs, while the heifers averaged 400kgs. “The entire crop sold to repeat buyers - finishers from Yorkshire and Cumbria who realise the benefits of fast finishing Charolais crosses and the fact there is a worthwhile margin to be had for themselves too.

“However one option we are considering adopting for ourselves in future, is to cut out the store period and finish all our own cattle. We realise that growth is king as far as our Charolais crosses are concerned. Both Charolais cross steers and heifers, have the genetic potential to reach target finishing weight within 12 months enabling us to benefit from that additional margin ourselves. In fact we have already reared steers to 650kgs at 12 months.”

Improved nutrition management has already increased output at Hallbankgate, and Ian believes there is future room for improvement.

“We introduce the calves to creep from five months of age to prevent a check at weaning, and more recently we have replaced a proprietory concentrate store diet fed from housing in October through to point of sale, to a total mixed ration diet.

“The TMR, based on a balance of grass silage, barley, wheat and concentrate, has brought a real visible difference to performance; growth rate is more uniform and rumen acid overload has been minimised. We believe we can step up that performance further, cost effectively.”

The Bells also have long term confidence in their pedigree Charolais herd, an added value enterprise that was introduced to Hallbankgate 35 years ago by Ian’s father, Tom who was among the first to invest in the breed in north Cumbria.

“We live in a region where other Continental breeds have been used extensively in suckler enterprises.

However in the last 12 months under the new SFP regime, judging from the increased demand for our Charolais bulls, there is every indication that commercial men’s hearts and minds are changing.

They are being driven by the fact that Charolais leaves calves with superior weight for age, good conformation and quiet temperament, and it’s not just one on five, but the entire packet of calves that hit the high note.”

Over the years the Bells have selected among their pedigree herd for length and width, together with feet and legs, and milking ability to breed Charolais bulls for the commercial sector, Ian said.

“More recently we have introduced BLUP data to improve our sire selection: our target is for the entire crop of young bulls to consistently find themselves within the breed’s top 1pc on Beef Value, and Calving Value must be above average.

“A bull that that is helping us to achieve our goals is Edenhurst Pioneer. A trait leader for muscle depth, he is leaving uniform easily calved progeny that hit the ground running. The latest BLUP run of Hallbankgate’s young bulls show we are making good progress. They are all within the breed’s top 1pc on Beef Value and 10pc on Calving Value,” said Ian.

“Our latest investment is Elrick Uranium who was secured in a joint 10,000gns bid. He went on to be selected by the MLC for its Young Bull Promotion Scheme, his first calves are on the ground and showing great promise,” he says.  “We are also working towards the herd joining the Cattle Health Scheme which will have added value implications.”

As far as the sheep enterprise is concerned, a traditional flock of Swaledale ewes have been swapped for Texel crosses and Mules all of which are put to the Texel for finished lamb production.

A portion of the flock lambs in February to supply finished lamb for the Easter market, while the remainder provide a cash flow throughout the summer months. “We believe in producing only the best by offering quality lamb that commands some of the highest prices in the auction ring from local butchers.”

Ian adds: “In future, we will continue to fine tune our beef and sheep enterprises, keep an eye on the market place and reacting accordingly to ensure we are producing to meet demand. However we believe we are well placed with Charolais, the terminal sire breed with immense potential for increased influence over the beef industry, to maintain a sustainable and profitable hill unit well beyond 2012.”

LINK Charolais Cross Breeds Optimism
link Signet Data Scoops £8k For Top Charolais Bulls at Perth
link Charolais Bull establishes new Perth 55,000gns sale record

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