The Cockleshell herd owned by Peter and Ian Pitcher of Friskney, near Boston, has been recognised by EBLEX as the Most Improved Herd of Limousin cattle for 2007/08.
Ian & Peter Pitcher
The award is presented by the EBLEX Beef Better Returns Programme (Beef BRP) to the recorded herd that shows the most impressive improvement to its genetic merit over a 12-month period. There is a separate award for each of eight UK breeds.
Peter Pitcher was one of the first farmers to import Limousin cattle into England from France in 1971. Since then, he and his son Ian, have kept faith with the breed as it has become one of the most popular beef breeds in the country.
“Limousins have a great range of both maternal and terminal traits,” Ian explains. “The cows are hardy, fertile and easy calving, while their progeny produce high yields of consistently good quality lean meat. They offer the perfect combination of traits.”
The Pitchers currently run 30 pedigree Limousin cows on their 320ha arable farm which runs up to the Wash. The cows calve in the winter and remain in crew yards until May. They are then turned out onto salt marshes for the summer.
The herd has a very high herd health status and is currently accredited free of BVD, leptospirosis and Johnes Disease. When it comes to breeding, Ian uses a combination of looks and figures to decide which bulls to use to serve the cows. He uses Estimated Breeding Values (EBVs) for beef value, calving ease, 200 and 400 day weights and temperament to help him make his choice. The calves are also scanned at one year of age for fat and muscle depth.
“I rely on figures more than Dad does,” admits Ian. “I really believe we need to go down this route. After all, the higher the beef value, the higher the price we can achieve for our pedigree breeding stock.”
Commenting on winning the award, Ian said one of the main reasons for the progress is a stock bull called Winnington Trump, which has been used over the past five years.
“This bull has definitely had a positive impact, particularly on the heifers. He has put more meat on the progeny and improved our overall figures across the board. I want our animals to be above average for all the economically important traits, and he has certainly taken us nearer to achieving this.
“We are very pleased to have come out top this time. Now the harder job of maintaining this level of progress starts.”
EBLEX breeding specialist Samuel Boon agrees: “The Pitcher’s philosophy of carefully selecting genetics that will produce the type of animal they and their customers are looking for, is proving an excellent and speedy way of producing high quality breeding stock, for their herd and for sale.
“Breeding better cattle requires a long term vision – a sire selected for breeding female replacements today will still be having a major impact in the herd in seven to 12 years time. So it's important to choose bulls carefully.
“Tools such as EBVs can help in the decision, as they highlight many of the most economically important traits – such as growth rates and muscle depth in the calves, and calving ease and milking ability in the cows.”
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