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
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
“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
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
“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
“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.”
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