The Ravensworth herd of Charolais cattle owned by Snowdon Oates from Gateshead, County Durham, has been recognised by EBLEX as the Most Improved Herd of Charolais for the year 2007/08.
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.
Mr Oates’ father was involved in importing some of the first Charolais cattle into this country, along with Simmental, Blonde D’Aquitaine, MRI and several other breeds. In the 1980’s pedigree Simmental and Blonde D’Aquitaine herds were run alongside the Charolais – but since 2001 the focus has purely been on the Charolais.
The 285 ha (700 acre) arable and grass farm lies on Gateshead’s urban fringe. The cattle are managed as a part-time enterprise and looked after by Mr Oates, farm manager Bill Wannop, and stockman Ian Wilkinson. 35 cows calve in the spring with a further 35 calving in the autumn – producing a supply of 15 to 20 young bulls to sell at both spring and autumn sales, including Perth and Carlisle. The bulls weigh around 1000kg at sale.
The best animals, based on physical stature and their performance records at 10 to12 months of age, are retained to sell for breeding. Any males not hitting the mark are finished and sold at around 700kg through Darlington market, where they regularly top the trade.
“We try to produce pedigree bulls with good figures and of a type that commercial beef producers are looking for,” Mr Oates explains. “After all, if the hammer doesn’t go down the bull doesn’t sell. We have to supply what the buyer wants.
“We are also undergoing blood testing and surveillance so that we can join the SAC Premium Health Scheme, which focuses on being free of BVD and Johnes Disease – because this is what our customers are increasingly asking for.”
When buying bulls to serve his own cows, Mr Oates assesses their physical characteristics first, and then scrutinises their breeding records and Estimated Breeding Values (EBVs). The traits he is most interested in are calving ease, growth, depth of eye muscle and overall carcase quality.
“We find EBVs extremely useful when trying to identify bulls that will take our herd forward in the key areas we have identified,” says Mr Oates. “We are also finding that many of our customers are using figures and EBVs now, to back up what they see by eye.”
Commenting on winning the award, Mr Oates feels the reason for the leap forward was down to a particularly good bull called Holly Mount Vagabond. He was bought at Carlisle in 2006, where he was Reserve Overall Champion. He has a very good pedigree and has introduced a new bloodline into the herd. Mr Oates has been very impressed with the performance of the calves he has sired so far.
EBLEX breeding specialist Samuel Boon agrees: “Selecting genetically superior breeding stock, using tools such as EBVs, will enhance many economically important traits – such as growth rates and muscle depth in calves, and maternal traits such as ease of calving and milking ability in cows.
“Mr Oates’ philosophy of buying in the best possible genetics is proving an excellent and speedy way of producing high quality breeding stock, and finished animals that attain premium prices at sale.”
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