Beef Expo’s pre-event farm tours are set to visit two farms this year, one being the home of David and Maggie Kelly who have established the Netherhall herd of short gestation pedigree Herefords. Hannah Park reports.
Rising feed costs and a drive to produce more off grass has meant the Kelly family’s former commercial cross and Limousin herd is about to be disbanded, with the system now focusing on EBVs and lower production costs.
Run by David and Maggie Kelly, their daughter Harriet, and stockman Patrick Booth, they cave 140 Hereford cows plus 50 embryo recipients.
Netherhall Farm spans 364 hectares (900 acres) near Kirkby Lonsdale, Cumbria, and the team is working towards calving 300 by next year to produce and sell breeding bulls and females to commercial beef and dairy farmers.
After buying their initial 45 autumn calving L1 breeding females from John Douglas’ Ervie herd, Stranraer, in 2014, David explains the genetics they have used to build numbers.
He says: “While on holiday in New Zealand six years ago, we visited Haldon station [calving some 1,100 pedigree Hereford’s and lambing 1,600 ewes] and liked their system which focusses on EBVs, easy calving and good growth rates.
“We wanted genetics for the commercial market to produce a product which is good to eat. So after some research we found the Wirruna stud, New South Wales, whose breeding policy on their polled herd is focussed around short gestation, easy calving and carcase quality with the muscularity we were looking for.”
The pair have since gone on to import embryos from Wirruna alongside Holden Herefords, Montana, several times and they currently have three Netherhall bulls in the Cogent catalogue.
Without focussing on breeding for a specific trait, they are now achieving the top one per cent genetics for a range of commercially appealing characteristics in pursuit of an animal which will perform on commercial beef or dairy farms.
The Hereford females are all spring-calving, done outside, beginning on April 7 this year for eight weeks, although some came earlier with the short gestation genetics.
They explain that the average gestation period is yet to be determined, while herd growth and genetic gain is still underway and they say it is important birthweight is not compromised.
“We want a 38-39kg calf at birth, so we are doing our own trials to work out what is the best average days’ gestation to aim for. We then take 200, 400, and 600 day weights, but stock is weighed between so their performance can be closely monitored, while the grass-based system is still in its infancy.
“The shorter gestation means fewer calving difficulties, a cow which is easier to get in calf and more days in milk. And with dairy farmers chasing tighter calving intervals from 360 days, we think the genetics can be used as an effective management tool.”
The farm runs six stock bulls as well as using AI, with some of the top females flushed and embryos implanted into recipient cows, which includes some of the remaining commercial cross females left on the farm.
Calves are weaned in November when the cattle come in for winter and are offered concentrates for four to six weeks as they transition on to ad-lib grass silage, although David says long term they will move straight into silage.
The farm sold 40 breeding bulls last year, but would like to sell 100 annually once numbers are up. Almost all females suitable for breeding are kept for now while the herd grows, but eventually these will also be offered for sale.
Any pure-bred Herefords not being kept for breeding are finished off grass and sold via Dunbia on a Co-op contract at 18 months old, alongside Hereford sired dairy bred calves which are bought in from neighbouring farms and finished at 20 months.
With a focus on high herd health status, finishing stock is kept on a separate, neighbouring unit which is run by their daughter, Harriet.
All breeding stock is Johne’s and BVD accredited, as well as BVD and Lepto vaccinated and the herd is in a four-year TB testing area.