SIMMENTALS

FITTING INTO
ORGANIC, LOW
COST SYSTEM

IN WEST WALES

Highlighting the flexibility and adaptability of the Simmental breed to all systems and geographies, here we feature the organic suckler herd and Welston pedigree herd of Anthony and Harry Davies, Tenby, Pembrokeshire.

Welcome to West Wales, where my son Harry and I farm 275 acres together with another 120 rented acres.  Our climate is gentle thanks to the gulf stream and ideal grass growing country, which we try to utilise to the max.  We carry 105 suckler cows and all followers are kept right through to either breed or to fatten.  The farm has been organic for more than 20 years, producing milk, corn and beef.  Without the use of chemicals, the farm has thrived with the dairy herd averaging 7800 litres/cow.  Clovers – red and white – are the mainstay with arable silage boosting yields.  In 2011 we decided to sell off the milking cows and increase the suckler herd.  The majority of our beef cows were graded up from the dairy herd, and we found half bred cows had loads of milk, whilst the 15/16th cows have a lot more muscle.  Each year we try to bull 20 to 25 heifers, and now all pedigree.

The simple organic, low-cost system we employ, also helps with a low carbon footprint.  Growing clover to fix nitrogen means we are able to graze from 1st March until November in most years.  We make our own silage with a forage wagon and spread the manure back onto the silage ground.  About 10% of the farm is reseeded each year, following the arable silage which we have gone back to this last 2 seasons.  A mix of barley, oats and peas under sown with ryegrass and clover to give cover over the winter.  For next year we will introduce vetches and radish for deep tap root penetration of the soil.  We also aerate the farm each year to allow oxygen into the soil.  Soil health means crop health which in turn means stock health. 

We originally bought Simmentals in 1987 after using MMB Halo on the dairy cows.  Those first cross breds showed to us the growth the breed had, and so our first pedigree purchase was Estelle 3rd and Tascha 14th from the Heywood sale.  Then, in 1990, came Revelex Avril 3rd, Avril 11th and Avril 12th out of Fincham Avril ERM.  We always look for stock from a very good female line.  Fincham Avril should have made Golden Cow, but alas, because she had moved farms, she didn’t have 3 calved cows on the same unit and so missed out.  The Avril family went on to produce Welston Frontier Avril who classified EX94. The Tascha family became our firm favourites with Welston Elgars Tascha classified Ex94, and a host of daughters classifying excellent (and maybe one of the first EX Simmentals to breed 3 generations EX).   Having bred Holstein for 30 years, Beef Character, legs and feet, body and mammary had improved the dairy herd no end, so we were keen to classify the Simmentals as we are well aware of the benefit.  

Initially, we had only used AI – Rickardstown Jumbo and Camus Brandy on our pedigree Simmentals.  However, we also used Sacombe Wishful Thinking on dairy cows and heifers as well as pedigree Simmentals.  Wishful Thinking was a very good all-round bull.

We decided we needed our first stock bull, which we found in Ireland when we bought Jennalyn Aspen from Clonagh – a son of Banwy TRex out of Milton Sapphire ET.  He is a full genetic brother to Clonagh Darling Eyes. In 2015 we purchased Shiloh Farm Forever Royal, a son of Kilbride Farm Bantry out of Shiloh Farm Royal Babe ET – a Hercules daughter.  Royal was Junior Champion bull at Tullamore also winning 8 first prizes that show season.  He has bred extremely well for us, being a long bull and has Classified EX 94. He is breeding smaller cows with extra length which is perfect for us.  In August 2018, we decided to look for a polled bull which we found in Northern Ireland and came home with Kilbride Farm Hans PP EX93 – a son of Sneumgaard Imperator out of Kilbride Farm Fanni 44 – a daughter of Hoeness.  We have used him on the heifers for the last 2 seasons and so far, we have been very pleased with the calves. Our recent Classification resulted in a further 15 cows and 2 bulls going EX.

The Classification for these 2 bulls is shown below as well as 6 heifers from Royal –

 BODY CONFIRMATION
BEEF CHARACTERLEGS/FEETMAMMARYRUMPFINAL CLASSIFICATION
KILBRIDE FARM HANS PPEX93EX94EX930EX92EX93
SHILOH FARM FOREVER ROYAL
EX94EX95EX950EX93EX94
ROYALS PROGENY
85858485084.86

We aim to breed easy care cattle that don’t cause us problems.  So, temperament, milk, growth, and easy calving are the goal.  We fatten off grass and silage with a guide cost for grass at £1/kg dry matter, silage at £3/kg dry matter and concentrates (if used) at £5/kg dry matter.  However, being organic, we aim to finish off grass wherever possible.  Royal’s progeny are grading particularly well as shown below by the kill sheet from a consignment sent in June 2020.  

 GRADEQUANTITYAVERAGE WEIGHTPAY WEIGHTAVERAGE VALUEPRICE PER KG.
HO CROSSR4L2338.3676.61522.354.5
SO CROSSR31440.440.1892.4.3
SO CROSSR31430.430.1870.54.35
SO CROSSR31420.6420.61850.644.4
SOR31412.8412.81836.964.45
SOR4L1440.440.1892.4.3
SOR4L1422.2422.21857.684.4
HOR32366.3732.61648.354.5
HO-U31330.2330.21512.324.58
SO-U32421.1842.21886.534.48
SO-U31411.4411.41863.644.53

In January 2019 we decided it might be a good exercise to take pelvic measurements of the heifers.   So, Richard Cummings, Cwarre Herd, who is a local vet, came along with a measuring instrument and measured the pelvises of our heifers.   Having measured the width and depth at this stage, you can calculate the size of a calf, by weight, that the heifer can deliver without difficulty.   We felt this information would be very useful before bulling, in order to calculate what size calf can pass safely through the pelvis. The pelvic area grows at a fairly constant rate from 9 to 24 months of age.  Heifers pelvic area increases slightly faster from 10 to 15 months versus 16 to 24 months.  The Continental breeds average growth is 0.30 cm sq. Per day and the native breeds are 0.25 cm sq. per day.  This relates to 8 or 10 cm sq. increase per month for this period.

Below is a list, by age, weight and calving history of our results:

Welston HerdAGE IN MONTHSWEIGHTPELVIC WIDTHPELVIC HEIGHTPELVIS SIZECALFWEIGHT KGSIREDIFFICULTY
COOMBER AVRIL
276101620320HEIFER40HANS
APOSTLE HONEY275601417238BULL47HARRYCEASEAR
MANS/MAN AVRIL2557816.517280HEIFER43HARRY
ROYAL TASCHA2356014.517246.5BULL42HANSPULLED
EDWARD CANDY2351413.515202.5BULL44ICON
ASPENS ANNAKEL224901417238DEADCALF
ROYAL TASCHA 2224801415210BULL43NEWRY
ROYAL WELCOME224801516240BULL41HANS
ASPEN TASCHA225041516240HEIFER40HANS
ROYAL ANGEL2146514.516232BULL41HANS
EDWARDS AVRIL204041416224BULL47ICON
ASPEN TASCHA 21642314.515217.5HEIFER38HANS
ROYAL KARINA twin1533811.514161BULL43HARRYSLIGHT PULL
ROYAL KARINA 21335011.514161HEIFER40HARRY
COOMBER ANGEL13.540012.513.5169HEIFER40HANS
MANS GENIES13.542012.514175TWINSHARRY
MANS GENIES134201416224BULL47HARRYPULLED
BULLSAGE IN MONTHSWEIGHTPELVIC WIDTHPELVIC HEIGHTPELVIS SIZECALFWEIGHT KGSIREDIFFICULTY
WELSTON IVAR218101315.5202
WELSTON ICON2179012.513.5169

100 cows weighing 700 to 800 kg eat the same amount of feed as 120 cows weighing 600 to 650 kg. and also produce an extra 20 calves per year.  Basically, we are currently trying to breed a small to medium cow that is polled, out of dams classified Very Good or Excellent with a self-replacing index in the top 25%.   

We now have our first home produced poll bull – Welston King Hans – son of Kilbride Farms Hans PP EX93 and out of Curaheen Gretal P EX92 (a granddaughter of Raceview Merle Beauty).  He looks very promising.

We believe the Simmental has all the leading traits of all the other breeds put together, but also believe that we must get more efficient by breeding a correct cow or bull of moderate size that can wean a calf weighing 50% of the dams’ body weight.  Heifers must calve by 2 years old, be easy calving with fewer than 3 to 5 per cent needing calving assistance.  They need to be efficient foragers and converters with optimum milk yield.  Good Classification will lead to longevity and so more calves produced per cow. Earlier in the year we purchased 6 Stabilizer heifers in order to directly compare the breeds and maybe follow some of their strengths in conversion of feed.

Our aim last year was to reduce cow size by about 100kg.  For every 100kg reduction per individual, 15% more cows per acre can be carried.  We intend to breed moderate cows, that are polled, Classified VG and EX with estimated breeding values in the top 20%.

A highlight for us in 2020 was the Virtual Show held by the Welsh Club, with Welston Harry winning overall Male Champion.  The Welsh Club was founded 30 years ago and it has been a great way of meeting fellow breeders at home and in Ireland.

A few final thoughts.  We need to work with our neighbours as one breed.  Simmental is one of the largest breeds in the world but we have to be open and mindful that this great breed is slipping behind in the UK.  We must look at the work of breeds like the Stabilizers who are measuring feed efficiency, weight trait trend, average weaning and finisher index by year of birth and, most importantly, average profit by year of birth which has improved by 100% since 2010.  Stabilizers also claim to be the most carbon efficient suckler cow, and, another milestone, they are now geonomically testing to enhance all their EBVs.  Don’t forget, the Stabilizer has Simmental in its makeup!  With all our leading traits, Simmental can get back to be THE LEADING BREED.  

Let’s make it happen!