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Charolais breeding success.

Byline: By Jennifer Mackenzie

Steve Nesbitt remains quietly optimistic about the future of the UK's beef industry under the new Single Farm Payment regime.

"Like any other sector undergoing major change, those who decide to stay in business will be profit-driven," he said. "To maximise returns, they'll be forced to produce a high-performing quality beast, and there is evidence that the trend is already starting to kick in.

"Within the first few weeks of 2005, trade for quality Charolais crosses is looking stronger than ever. The gap between Charolais crosses and other continental crosses has started to widen even further as finishers realize that Charolais cross cattle are streets ahead on growth rate.

"Charolais crosses will reach target weight from 15 months onwards and, compared with other continental crosses, they will achieve at least 50kg growth advantage over the same time period, a yield worth more than pounds 60, which will go a long way towards covering the loss of the second BSP payment," added Steve who, together with his father Doug and brother David, runs Alwent Hall, an owner occupier farm near Winston, just a stone's throw over the North Yorkshire border. The Nesbitts have over the years placed their eggs in more than one basket, which is enabling them now to be better placed to adjust to the new regime. Alwent comprises a 200-acre mix of grassland and arable, it carries a prize-winning flock of 120 pedigree Texel ewes, and redundant farm buildings have been converted to workshops and facilities for Pye Bibby's regional retail outlet.

However, it is the family's 40-cow pedigree Charolais herd producing high performance bulls for the suckler sector, as well as for other breeders, that Steve says will continue to remain at the heart of the business.

"We established the herd 25 years ago as a hobby. However, it has evolved to become a serious commercial venture that nowadays makes up a significant part of our overall farm income," he said.

"In fact, Charolais is now by far my biggest interest and the herd is here to stay until I pack up farming. For starters, Charolais is beyond doubt the superior beef breed on performance; it leaves calves that are naturally fleshed and with that unbeatable weight for age.

"Charolais crosses are most cost effective, regardless of appetite, simply because they have that genetic ability to convert feed at a much higher rate and at an earlier age than any other Continental crosses.

"And that's a real benefit which will be increasingly to the fore in future as finishers adopt more intensive systems to realise their animals' potential and subsequently higher margins.

"However, I think the breed will also have a real role to play in more extensive suckler beef systems, those requiring less labour and other inputs which we're also likely to see being adopted under the new regime. Apart from having the performance edge in a low input system, Charolais cross calves have a quiet temperament, and over the years great strides have been made in improving ease of calving, and through BLUP we are able to recognize those easier calving lines."

Calving ease, together with growth rate and fleshing ability, are the main performance traits the Nesbitts have carefully selected for in the last five years, ensuring they deliver bulls that match market requirements.

Today the Alwent herd is among the breed leaders in the North-East with all its progeny heading towards being within the breed's top 15pc for both beef and calving values. "Our goal is to offer naturally-fed bulls with an average 400 day daily liveweight gain of 1.65kg to 1.7kg. We are firm believers in selling through the ring in Perth and Carlisle, however in the last couple of years we've had an unprecedented demand at the farm gate," added Steve.

The Nesbitts former herd sire, Baggrave Minstrel, has had a major influence at Alwent and left a number of top-flight progeny, including Alwent Peregrin, who lifted the Royal and Great Yorkshire interbreed junior championships; the 13,000gns Royal Highland junior champion, Alwent Osprey; and the Carlisle Christmas Cracker champion, Alwent Orchid, who sold for 6,800gns.
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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Feb 19, 2005
Words:692
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