The easy-calving and easy-fleshing nature of Aberdeen-Angus cattle is key to the success of Bill Harpur’s suckler herd near Portrush.
The County Antrim farmer runs a herd of 60 suckler cows, comprising Limousin crosses and Simmental crosses, with everything put to an Aberdeen-Angus bull.
Mr Harpur previously bought in continental cross stores for finishing, however he started transitioning to a suckler herd on his 170-acre farm just over 20 years ago when the processor he supplies – Linden Foods – started an Aberdeen-Angus scheme.
He says he has been impressed with the easy-calving nature of the Aberdeen-Angus breed, its ability to finish on less feed than the continental stores he previously reared, and the docile nature of the bulls.
“I really like the temperament of the cattle – I can see a real difference with the Aberdeen-Angus crosses in comparison to the continental stores I used to buy,” says Mr Harpur.
Selecting for easier management
Ease of management is key for Mr Harpur who houses cattle between November and May, and calves in April and May.
He buys in approximately 15 eight to nine-month-old heifer calves every October to whittle down to a group of eight or 10 to keep as replacements.
“They’re predominantly Limousin cross and Simmental cross heifers from suckler herds, and the ones I decide to keep go to the bull the following July when they’re around 16-months-old,” he says.
Mr Harpur pelvic scores them all to decide which ones to keep for breeding, and he is also very strict about which animals to retain in the herd after calving.
For example, anything that requires excessive calving assistance will not be bred from again, and any animal which requires extra attention to get her calf suckling will not be kept after she rears that calf.
“By using an Aberdeen-Angus bull, I very rarely have to assist an animal to calf and the calves just want to live – they are full of vigour,” says Mr Harpur.
Finishing on less inputs
The move from finishing continental bought-in stores to home-bred Aberdeen-Angus cross cattle has resulted in animals finishing five months earlier on less inputs.
The finishing ration for the home-bred Aberdeen-Angus crosses comprises 2-3kg of home-grown barley at 10% protein per day, plus good-quality silage.
“On this diet, my heifers are going away at 21-22-months-old, and the steers are going for slaughter at 21-24-months-old,” says Mr Harpur.
He says this compares to finishing continental stores at 24-months-old based on feeding them 6-7kg of meal a day, or at 27-28-months-old if they are fed a diet of 2.5kg of meal a day.