The Pia Troon herd, owned by Howard Forster and assisted by his brother Edward Forster, of Hexham, Northumberland, has been recognised by EBLEX as the Most Improved Herd for the British Charolais breed for 2008/09.
Charolais Pia Troon 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.
Fifth generation farmers, the Forsters originally ran a 200-cow herd of Friesian dairy cows. A Charolais beef bull was used to produce fast growing beef calves from the cows that were not used to breed replacements. When the dairy herd was sold in 1989, the brothers decided to establish a herd of pedigree Charolais cattle.
The brothers rent 204ha (500 acres) and grow wheat, oilseed rape and barley on half. The rest is permanent pasture for the 40 breeding cows, heifers and youngstock and 500 breeding ewes.
The cows calve in two groups – in late autumn and in June – so that bulls are ready to sell at the key spring and autumn sales. The aim is to sell bulls at 15-22 months of age. The biggest demand comes at the spring sales.
The Forsters have always weighed their cattle to monitor progress, but have been recording more formerly for the past 11 years.
“Performance recording is a great tool if done honestly,” explains Edward Forster. “After first choosing a bull on type, you need to examine his figures, using tools such as Estimated Breeding Values (EBVs).
The Forsters use records to confirm that animals are gaining enough weight, at the right rate, so they know they are converting feed into meat efficiently. By weighing the calves, they can also tell how well the dam is performing in terms of her milk production.
Until recently the cows were served by AI, but last year a 17 month-old performance-recorded bull was purchased, in a partnership with two other Charolais breeders. Sharing the bull over three herds will produce a larger number of calves, and his true potential will become apparent more quickly than if he was only serving one herd.
So far he is producing well-shaped animals with good growth rates which have calved without any problems. His first progeny will be available to buy from next October.
Stock from the Pia Troon herd is sold mainly to commercial producers who run suckler herds. For example Ian Bell, from Brampton in Cumbria, who has 130 beef cattle, (including 25 pedigree Charolais), and 600 commercial ewes, purchased Pia Troon Columbus from the Forsters in 2008.
“At 1,100kg at 18 months old, this bull was a massive weight for his age,” comments Mr Bell. “He had very impressive 200-, 400- and 600-day growth rates and is continuing to develop. It is growth rates like these that we are looking to improve in our own herd.
“The bulls we buy are used on all our cattle, not just the commercial herd, so it makes sense to buy performance-recorded stock, so we can continue progressing our own pedigree herd,” says Mr Bell. “It is so important to match type and figures.”
EBLEX breeding specialist Samuel Boon agrees.
“EBVs are measurements of genetic potential and provide a reliable insight into the effect the bull could have on the herd,” he says. “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 the Forsters on the excellent job they are doing with the Pia Troon herd.”
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