The best genetics in all breeds have merit, believes Roy Kinnish - owner of Kinaston Blondes, which has recently won the breed’s 2014 national pedigree herd competition.
One regret breeder Roy Kinnish reflects upon is his father not seeing the first pedigree Blonde born at Manor Farm, Aston Botterell, south Shropshire.
He says: “We were cattle feeders first and foremost, but had success showing store cattle we bought from breeders such as Peter Butler of the Yieldingtree herd of Blondes, Kidderminster.
“Peter said to me in late 1981: ‘if you have another win, I think you ought to have a pedigree next time’. Our first in-calf heifer was only days away from calving when Dad passed away in mid-December, so he never got to see them at the start.”
Having taken on the farm tenancy aged 27 - the 145-hectare (360-acre) mixed unit is owned by the Boyne Estate - the focus was, as it remains today, to produce quality cattle.
“There are about 190 head including youngstock,” says Mr Kinnish. “The aim is for all cows to have a calf each year.
“Heifers are calved in January/February, as they take that bit longer to get back to the bull. They should then fit with the cows the following year which calve from April onwards to go straight out to grass.”
The farm is a mix of 72ha (180 acres) arable, including feed barley and maize harvested for winter rations, with the remainder being permanent pasture.
The unit is managed under both Entry Level and Higher Level Stewardship schemes.
“I rely on contractors for the big or specialist jobs on the arable side of things,” he says. “I manage the cattle largely on my own, so I guess I am pretty well organised on that front.”
A part-time stockman comes in two days a week to help out, while wife Christine and daughter Lorraine run a beauty therapy business and son Neil works as a website developer.
“At close to 65, I have to consider I might be the last Kinnish to farm here, although we have another generation on the tenancy.”
He attributes the herd’s success in being true to the realities facing the commercial beef farmer. That has been endorsed by his own experiences selling cattle in both the prime and cull ring at Bridgnorth market over many years.
“As a finisher I noticed a Blonde heifer would outgrow a Charolais, so knew there was something good about them.
“I do not think Blonde steers are any better than a Limousin; I am quite happy to see the best in any breed and not just my own,” he says.
However, he believes Blondes have ‘scope’ as a breed, whereas some other continental breeds have too narrower a gene pool.
“But like others, the Blonde originated in France and I do not suppose they gave us the best to start with. Over there, the drive is for size, as that is what they are ultimately paid on.
“Having concentrated on pulling back size to get shape, our recent drive has been to improve milkiness while maintaining style and putting a little scale and stretch back in.
“I have used Hayton Platinum to get extra milk and Doncombe Sebastian for size and stretch.
“As a breed, we need to ensure cows maintain neatness during their lifetime which is where I see the Limousin winning.
“Also, a Blonde bull at work can look rangy compared to a Limousin, but put to a Holstein cross Blue cow it produces a cracking calf.”
Calving ease also features, with new bulls selected from the breed’s top 3 per cent ranked according to EBV data.
“We have not has a caesarean here for two years and before that it was for a twisted presentation,” he says.
Showing successes have been topped recently by the herd’s Bridge ET, which was crowned national bull champion for the breed in 2012.
“But it was Kinaston Henry VIII which put us on the map, winning male champion at the Shropshire and West Midlands, Royal and Royal Welsh shows in 1994.
“His son, Kinaston Nile, has a lot of style and class and produced progeny which had excellent growth.
“Having won at the Royal, he was sold to judge John Owen, Scotland, and his progeny went on to make sensible money in the ring, so we knew we were on the right track.”
Pedigree heifer replacements also feature in all-important sales for the herd. Female title takers include Kinaston Iola, which took two inter-breed championships, plus breed champion at the Royal Welsh Show in 2000. Other champions have followed from both the breed sale and agricultural show circuit, helping keep the Kinaston name in the spotlight.
“Today I only hold one production sale each year at Worcester,” says Mr Kinnish. “Don’t get me wrong; I think Carlisle is a very good market and attracts quality stock, but as we are in a one-year TB testing parish, I do not think buyers up there - many from four-year testing parishes - want to take our stock.
“That affects prices, which cannot justify the extra time and haulage at £2.60/mile to get up there and back.
“I am not after the headline-grabbing five-figure sale prices - although they would be nice, but I can still pick a young bull or heifer which will mature into a really good breeding animal. Call it old fashioned stockman’s eye, if you like.”
He takes a similar practical no-nonsense approach to selling bulls. “Realistically, if you sell 20 a year, five buyers will be delighted, 10 happy and five may not see what they expected.”
To minimise disappointment, attention is given to weeding out heifers and bulls with poor temperament - a task shared with other breeds.
Mr Kinnish says: “It is hard because it is often the one animal in a group of replacements you are bringing on which you had picked out to keep. But they have got to go.”
It is a principle which won the attention of judges for this year’s national pedigree herds competition.
The judges, Chris Shenton of the Bridge Herd and Nick Rogers of the Aaron herd, remarked on the docility of stock while walking among them to assess this year’s finalists.
The presentation will take place in the sale ring ahead of the breed society’s autumn sale at Carlisle on October 24.
So, are there any regrets? “We were still in the aftermath of BSE in 1994 when Kinaston Henry VIII’s progeny were dominant, but unable to attract the best money,” says Mr Kinnnish.
“But there is nothing that can be done about it. Being a tenanted unit, I have to keep the cash-flow moving so do not like high reserves on stock. You cannot keep them all.”
Limited winter housing also adds pressure to maintain sales. “Once calved, I like to get cows and calves out to grass as soon as possible. They run as a group on permanent pasture through summer and into October.
“Once housed, they are fed a ration based on maize, crimped cereal and a protein pellet with ad lib straw.
“Replacement bulls tend to be sold at 18-20 months, having had a second season at grass. I sell about 20 a year, with 80 per cent being sold direct off the farm.
“Personally, I would like to see young bulls introduced to herds at 12 months of age to let them run in gently. It is a big ask to put in a bull to serve across a herd of cows in its first year, without having an impact on its condition.”
Weaned calves are given a four-in-one vaccination for IBR, BVD and two respiratory diseases before housing, he says.
“I can generally pick out the ones which will make replacements before they enter their first spring the following year. The heifers are not pushed hard; you have got to allow them the time to grow.”
Mr Kinnish says he plans to carry on the livestock enterprise while he is ‘fit and able’. “I have told Christine I have got a plan in place to ease back by the time I’m 67-68.
“I still do all the breaking in myself and get a lot of enjoyment out of the stock, not just my own, but the best in all breeds.
“I do not say I am a rich breeder, but I am rich in the breeders and other friends I know.”