The European Angus Forum 2018 in Estonia

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20 June 2018

The Estonian Aberdeen-Angus Association played host to a number of Aberdeen-Angus breeders and enthusiasts from all over the world last week as they hosted the 2018 European Angus Forum. Angela McGregor and Barrie Turner were in attendance over in Estonia with a UK delegation of members including Geordie and Julia Soutar, Andrew and Patricia Simpson and William and Karen McLaren. Spanning the duration of the week, the Forum featured exciting and interesting visits to a number of landmarks and local herds, where it was excellent to see the way in which the Aberdeen-Angus breed continues to prosper in another different geographical location. Here is an account of the time spent in Estonia

The UK delegation were joined by representatives from 9 other countries including many who have started their herds with UK seedstock. The event was packed with interesting visits and activities from start to finish, with all things ‘Aberdeen-Angus in Estonia’ and great food, reflecting the country’s history. Estonia is in Northern Europe and is land bordered with Latvia and the Russian Federation, and sea bordered with Finland. It is on the same meridian line as Orkney so has similar daylight hours and at this time of year has very little darkness.

In terms of the cattle numbers, in 2002 there were 1000 head of beef cattle and the Estonian Beef Breeders Association was started, the current number of beef cattle is now in excess of 80,000. Aberdeen-Angus is currently sitting at number 2 on the list of the top 16 breeds in Estonia, only 102 head behind the Hereford, but hunting them down very quickly to take the number one spot! You can read full details of each day of the event below, and can also visit the European Angus Forum Facebook page for some nice video and photography content from the event by clicking here.

Day 1

Visit to the Valtu Herd:

The first tour of the Forum was a visit to the Valtu Herd, which is owned by British shareholders and is engaged in 1000ha of arable forming. The first Aberdeen-Angus were brought in 2013 and in spring of 2018, 37 calvings are expected. Using an extensive AI programme to grow the herd using the best available genetics from all around the globe, at Valtu they are hoping to expand enough to start selling pedigree Aberdeen-Angus cattle both in Estonia and around the world, creating a successful export business function. The cows are maintained at around 750-780 kg and the good quality grassland that they have available gives them enough nutrition to not require any concentrates. It is a true ‘beef from grass’ unit. The current crop of calves that we saw looked extremely well and all set now for growth up to 100 head of suckler cows, which is the aim.

Visit the Estonian Cattle breeders AI station:

A rare visit which is not often facilitated was arranged for us to see the Aberdeen-Angus bulls in the AI centre of Estonia. This facility is the only one in Estonia and covers AI services for the dairy and beef cattle breeders. There are 170 bulls on the site and this provides in excess of 500,000 doses of semen per year. We were able to view the bulls which were shown to us through the fence and into the unit and what we saw was a consistent type of Aberdeen-Angus bull that is perceived to be the best type for the country. A ‘pop-up’ lunch and discussion followed which was very welcome!

After the AI Station visit, a trip to the harbour followed where we took a short ferry trip to the island of Saaremaa, off the western coast of Estonia. We were treated to a tour of the Bishop’s Castle in the town where we had dinner by special invitation of the Bishop, which took the form of a medieval banquet accompanied by traditional dance demonstration, in which we were invited to take part. 

Day Two

Visit to The Cattle of Rana Villa:

The day kicked off with a coach drive to the coast where there was a marina and a few boats. Three small boats had been chartered to take 11 passengers each, along with a fast rib boat that could do two trips in the same time as the others. Barrie was fortunate enough to be on the fast boat twice, first sitting in the back which was okay, and second time sitting on the side of the rib, which was powering through the waves with even his stature being lifted off the seat, leaving him hanging on for dear life! The Island is a lush green and not insignificant piece of land, that is home to some Pedigree Aberdeen-Angus. There is no fresh water on the Island and the cattle drink the sea water with no ill effects. Again, we saw medium sized cows, all of which had really good calves at foot, in what was another excellent demonstration of how the Aberdeen-Angus breed can adapt and thrive in any conditions.

On the way back to the hotel we got to take in a number of attractions, namely an impressive meteor crater, Angla Windmill Park and Panga Cliff. Dinner followed at the Rana Villa Cafe where we were treated to a very good meal and wine, with a local dance troupe as the first part of the entertainment and a band laid on to finish the evening off.

Day Three

Audia OU feedlot visit:

The first visit was to a very commercial feedlot that consisted of cattle being taken in and fattened commercially. The Audia OU feedlot was part of the main meat processor on the island and there were many different breeds. One large shed was made of solid floor, with automatic scrapers to muck out the dunging passage and cubicles, and the other one was a little less harsh with some straw bedded areas. There was every manner, breed, shape and size within the unit and it was a good demonstration of the conditions that the different breeds can survive in. 

Andru Polder MTU Angus herd:

We then headed to the Andru Polder MTU Angus herd. The visit was a revelation, as it was part of a protected area that was a new funded project to protect and improve an area of special interest, particularly the migratory bird population. The Polders are relative newcomers to the breed, having established the herd in 2015 from 27 pure Aberdeen-Angus females purchased via some grant aid for the project, and a further 10 with their own contribution. They are hoping that by the end of the summer of 2018, they will have a further 37 calves on the ground, with their longer-term vision being to reach 100 suckler cows by 2020. By that time, they also want to have gained organic accreditation for the herd. The cattle looked very well and were being well looked after and would be overwintered inside for a short time. The genetics were from Estonian and Finnish herds at the start and a really good type of Aberdeen-Angus, seen as being the best fit for their particular system of all the breeds available. Hospitality was again provided in a remote and scenic location, with a selection of home cured smoked meats and homemade seeded rye bread, along with the most sweet and delicious strawberries that were in season at the time.

Saareoue Farm visit:

The final visit of day three was to Saareoue Farm, which is a family-run farm with a little extra help in the summer. The farm consists of 500ha of land, 250 ha of which is under cropping organically, with organic cereals being the main crop, but also Lupins. The rest is under grass for grazing and silage and hay making the fee for the 200 head of cattle on the farm at any one time. A large part of the grazing is down by the sea and the cattle run right up to the beach, but not onto the beach as it upsets the city tourists when they come on holiday! Most of the breeding animals have been sourced from Sweden. They are looking at more medium sized animals, with Scottish, New Zealand and Australian finding favour at the moment. The cattle that are not needed for breeding for any reason are sent off the farm between 16 and 18 months of age. They want cattle of good temperament, 600-700kg working weight with good milk yield, leaving calves weaned at 50% of the cow’s weight. We found this to be a very interesting and informative visit, with great care being taken to make the most effective use of manure, along with substantial investment in machinery to keep labour low and maximise the nutrients in the muck to greatest effect.

Day Four

A visit to see the Vilsi Herd of Aberdeen-Angus:

Belonging to Tiina and Ivo Tomson, the Vilsi herd is run by the family. Numerous new buildings have been put up on the farm to a very high standard to go alongside the 125ha that is under management by them, 75ha of which they own. The aim of the herd is to produce as many high-quality pedigree breeding animals as is possible for the domestic market, as well as for export.

They are well on the way with the genetics from Scotland, USA and Canada being part of the programme. They have already had great show success with Vilsi Primus and Vilsi Jupiter taking the top two spots in the biggest Estonian breeding show in 2017. Again, the herd included some wonderful cattle and calves being run by a fantastic family who are in love with the Aberdeen-Angus breed. There were 4 generations of the family there to show us round and answer questions, and as always, some excellent Estonian snacks and drinks before we left.

Visit to the Marmorland Herd:

The Marmorland Herd is located in Central Estonia and owned by Aberdeen Top Genetics, which is a family company with one paid employee. The herd is based on Scottish genetics purchased back in 2006 when they bought 37 heifers and two bulls from the Rosemount Herd in Scotland from former Society president Alex Sanger. A further 35 heifers were purchased in 2007 and the herd is now running at 100 animals, 60 of which are sucklers with some of the original purchases still going strong. The company has 420ha of leased land, 200ha under an organic cropping regime and all the forage is produced in the form of silage and hay for the cattle. They are a breeding organisation and have sold over 50 top breeding bulls to Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania and Belarus. They have also sold heifers to new start-up herds, mostly in Estonia, but 3 new start-ups abroad with help and encouragement being offered as a package. At Marmorland, they have also started an embryo programme and we were able to see the cattle around which the programme is based. The herd sees recording as a very important and useful tool, with them making use of the services of both the Estonian Beef Cattle Association and Breedplan here in Scotland.

The herd has won the Best performing beef herd in 2009 and 2014, so considerable success has been gained through the choice of Aberdeen-Angus as a breed.

Day Five

The final day of the European Angus Forum was kicked off with the delegates attending a great event at Dorpat Conference Centre where the official European Aberdeen-Angus Secretariat event took place. The conference ran from 9.30am – 12.30pm, after which the delegates were treated to two excellent final visits to the Lendermäe Aberdeen-Angus herd from Sanna Turu and Kuusiku Farm from Jane Mättik. Jane and Sanna played a central role in the organization of the full event along with Tanel, and special thanks must be given to them for all they did to organize and co-ordinate the event, along with fulfilling much-appreciated translation duties when required! The animals on show at both Sanna and Jane’s herd visits were excellent in quality, a quality which reflected the excellence of the full event. They sit at the forefront of the development of the Aberdeen-Angus breed in Estonia and have wonderful encouraging visions and objectives for the industry.

It was a great few days over in Estonia with some wonderful visits and tours. Everyone at the Society would like to thank our friends in Estonia for what was a great stay.