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Stackyard News Jul 09

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Elmtree Herd Wins Most Improved Award for Limousin Breed

The Elmtree herd owned by Ronnie Walker of Appleby, Cumbria, has been recognised by EBLEX as the Most Improved Herd of the British Limousin breed for 2008/09.

Ronnie Walker and Elmtree Limousin Herd 2009

Ronnie Walker and Elmtree Limousin Herd 2009

The award is presented by the EBLEX Beef Better Returns Programme (Beef BRP), to the recorded herd that shows the greatest genetic gain for commercial traits over a 12-month period. There is a separate award for each of ten UK breeds.

Ronnie Walker runs a herd of 65 cows on 61ha (150 acres) of grassland. He took over the management of the farm from his father 17 years ago, and the pedigree herd was established in 2002, after the existing herd was culled due to the Foot and Mouth Disease outbreak.

“I bought my first 63 pure Limousins when breeder Doug Edgar held a reduction sale,” explains Mr Walker. “This included cows, heifers, calves and one stock bull, which were all performance recorded.”

The cows calve all year round, generally indoors for ease of management. The aim is to sell most as breeding cattle to commercial producers. The calves are sorted during the first two months – if they are not shaping up by then, they are not kept. Weaning takes place between seven and ten months. Thereafter bulls are kept indoors, and heifers are turned out to grass.

Bulls are finished around 18 months of age; fed on big bale silage supplemented with concentrates up to two months prior to sale, and then fed an ad-lib coarse mix. Heifers that are not kept or sold for breeding, are finished at 12 to 15 months of age.

Mr Walker performance records his animals and uses Estimated Breeding Values (EBVs), for key traits such as calving ease and fast growth rates to select his future breeding stock. He is also looking for animals that have a quiet temperament, good feet, and that thrive on grass.

New bulls are always bought-in. There are currently three stock bulls which were purchased at around 15-17 months of age. The oldest is now nine years old – Kype Rob Roy was purchased from Ron Cruickshank of Strathclyde in 2002.

Surprise Award

Commenting on winning the award, Mr Walker said it was quite a surprise, and is probably due to the influence of one particular stock bull, Goldies Apollo, which he bought in 2007.

“This bull’s progeny seem to have better weight gain and body shape than any we have produced before,” says Mr Walker. “I am looking forward to seeing what potential customers think of his calves - some are just about ready to sell now.”

Elmtree bulls are sold through the Carlisle pedigree sales and, bulls, cows and calves are also marketed privately off the farm. Mr Walker feels there is growing interest in buying stock with known performance figures behind them.

“People seem to like to be looking for EBVs these days – in the sales catalogues and on the pens. It’s still new to some though, and I enjoy explaining how they work and the advantages of using them.”

Repeat business

Pip Simpson of Poole Bank Farm, Windermere is one of Mr Walker’s customers, and has 40 suckler cows running alongside a flock of 900 commercial ewes. Finished cattle are sold at auction from ten months of age onwards.

After meeting Mr Walker at one of the Carlisle sales Mr Simpson arranged a visit to the farm.

“I like to buy from the farm so I can see the dam and other progeny the bull has sired in their home environment,” explains Mr Simpson. “I bought two bulls initially from Ronnie, and have since been back for some cows with calves at foot.

“I feel it is a bonus to be able to buy stock that is performance recorded. The way we have to farm to remain in business these days means we need quick growth rates. You can only be certain of ‘buying’ this trait, if you have figures to back up the looks.”

EBLEX breeding specialist Samuel Boon agrees.

“EBVs are measurements of genetic potential and provide a reliable insight into the effect a bull could have on the herd,” says Mr Boon. “It means producers can make informed purchasing decisions rather than leaving it to chance, and hoping the chosen bull will deliver on the commercially important traits.

“All the winners of the Improved Herd Awards record the performance of their herds. All are providing valuable information that can help customers produce animals that make them money because they meet processor/retailer and consumer demand, and do so as efficiently as possible. I congratulate Mr Walker on the excellent job he is doing with the Elmtree Limousins.”

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