THE BACKBONE TO A COMMERCIAL LOW INPUT, HIGH OUTPUT FAMILY FARMING BUSINESS
The Review features the Turner family at Stone Acton Farm, Church Stretton, Shropshire and where the multi trait strengths of the Simmental breed are providing the basis of a flexible low input system.
Simmental genetics have played a major role in the Turner family’s low input, high output commercial beef enterprise for more than four decades, and they have a firm future – pedigree heifers are being introduced to the unit to develop a new added value aspect to the business.
“Simmentals have consistently demonstrated great maternal instincts, they look after their calves and produce a lot of milk which encourages good growth rates, and they mature sufficiently early to calve at two years,” James explains. “They’ve also proved to fit our system being good forage converters, the same reason why we thought introducing the Hereford to a new crisscross breeding strategy over 50% of the herd would work, and it’s proving to be complementary, retaining all the maternal traits and adding to the docility element.”
The Hereford has not only achieved the Turner’s quest for hybrid vigour, but it has also opened up two new buyers for added value markets. All store calves by a registered Hereford bull, apart from those retained for replacement purposes, are sold to finishers for Waitrose’s Hereford Beef Scheme and a local butcher interested in selling branded meat.
Over half a century ago the Turners farmed a miscellany of native bred sucklers. Charolais was the first Continental breed to be introduced to Stone Acton, before swapping for the fast-emerging Simmental in the late ‘70s. “Temperament and ease of calving led us to source a pedigree Simmental bull and the breed has stood the test of time here for going on 45 years,” says Phil.
“We bought a few in calf cows and went on to steadily grow the pedigree herd. We did the county show circuit and sold bulls and replacement heifers, however by the late 80’s we realised it was becoming too time consuming, so we decided to rack back and concentrate on running a commercial spring calving herd producing store cattle along with replacement heifers for sale. Calves continue to be either sold weaned at eight months averaging 365kgs or overwintered on forage diets and sold as yearlings at an average 425kgs.”
“Wroxall genetics have remained at the heart of the herd with bulls bought privately and selected for polled bloodlines, with EBVs for ease of calving used as a guideline,” James explains. “Wroxall Hannibal threw some very shapely calves, however it was Wroxall Accumulator and Wroxall Hannibal who left the best bloodlines. They not only had shape, but they were also well fleshed and had very good growth rates. We are optimistic our new herd sire, Wroxall Lost Property will deliver similar quality calves – his first are due on the ground in 2023.”
Attention to detail is paramount at Stone Acton, a level of management that’s reflected in the herd’s performance. “All the heifers, for example, calve at 24 months, and in the last five years they’ve all reared their own calves,” James explains. “The whole herd achieves an average 97% calves reared from females put to the bull. In a so-called normal year, we would have between 95 and 105 cows and heifers in calf. We would normally only lose one or two calves and then if we’re lucky have one or two sets of twins, ensuring most cows would have at least one calf, all being well. However there have been exceptional years – in 2017 we had 17 sets of twins off 96 in calf cows and heifers.
“We bolus every female to enhance fertility and provide supplementary buckets pre calving, otherwise the herd totally depends on forage – grazing and quality silage and hay, and the majority calve in the first six weeks.”
Simmental is demonstrating the longevity factor too for the Turners.
“All cows would have at least 10 calf crops and some up to 14. We still have cows that were born here in 2006, they started annually producing calves in 2008 and are scheduled to calve again in March 2023.
“We also pride ourselves on maintaining herd health. Apart from buying in high health status bulls, the herd has remained closed for over three decades. It is currently BVD accredited, Lepto vaccinated and Johne’s free.
The Turner family: James, his father Phil and uncle, Simon
- 320 acres LFA grassland inc Mid-Tier
- 20 acres woodland
- 100 Simmental and Hereford cross Simmental breeding females
Stone Acton Farm, Church Stretton, Shropshire
- 5 pedigree Simmental heifers
- 24 months age at first calving
- 96% scan
- 97% calves reared inc twins
- 10 to 14 crops of calves
“In addition, we’ve always invested in both Simmental and Hereford poll bulls and as a result don’t have to do any dehorning at all; polling takes away the stress for both us and the animal and removes any potential growth checks,” says James.
2023 sees the Turners embarking on a new journey when they introduce the first new pedigree Simmental genetics to their Stone Acton herd in 30 years. “We considered we needed some new bloodlines and buying in registered stock is providing us with the opportunity to rebuild the pedigree herd and develop a new added value enterprise.
“We’ve purchased five heifers from the Mixbury Hall herd, specifically selected for their high health status being BVD and IBR accredited, Johne’s Level I and Lepto vaccinated.”
To the future and James says the family is planning to maintain a flexible low input system. “There’s scope to make more from forage, potentially cutting back on the volume of sheep taken on winter tack, making minimal fertiliser applications, exploiting the red clover introduced to the silage leys and introducing GS4 mixes.” It’s a strategy that perfectly fits with Simmental which will continue to have a firm place.”