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South Devons make debut at Livestock Event

This year the Livestock Event will be hosting the South Devon Performance Championship for the first time where the Hadley family will be exhibiting a team of cattle.  

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JOHN and Jean Hadley and their son, Rob, who run the Knightcote herd of 75 pedigree South Devon cows plus followers at Chesterton, near Leamington Spa have enjoyed great success in both the show and sale rings.

Rob says: “For the past few years I have been promoting the breed on the society’s stand and have seen the Livestock Event go from strength to strength and it seems a logical step for the South Devon’s to have a show there.


The family have been breeding South Devons since 1974 as Rob explains: “Up until then we had mainly reared calves and store cattle but were looking for a native breed which could offer something comparable to the continental breeds which were coming into the country at that time and the South Devons ticked all the boxes.


“Dad was from a butchering background and was impressed by the South Devon carcase and growth rates, but they also had strong maternal traits being good mothers and very milky and had a good temperament.


“They are an easy to manage breed and complement the arable side of the farm. We have some grass which is of ancient historical interest so we are limited to what we can do with it other than graze with stock.”



The herd was founded on three females from the Wadderton, Gatherleigh and Nutcombe herds bought at a sale a Northampton. They were followed by an Edmonston bull and numbers quickly grew to 35 cows.


Then about 20 years ago the herd underwent a major change after John and Jean went to a South Devon world convention in the United States. John says: “It made me realise that on the world stage the beef industry is polled and I thought that we should move in that direction and I still believe it was the right thing to do.


“Aside from the improved health and safety aspect of having polled cattle, de-horning all takes time and effort and there is the possibility that in the future there may be protocols in place where by processors won’t take de-horned as calves.”


 Rob says: “It was a tough decision to make as we had built up a prize winning herd but decided to draw a line under it and to focus on polled genetics and gradually phase out the horned cattle. Now only polled calves are kept, but these still have to meet the other criteria we are aiming for.”



About the same time the Hadleys also started MLC weigh recording, a scheme which has now evolved into Breedplan.


Rob says: “The transition was made more difficult by the fact we were recording as well so sourcing bulls which were both polled and recorded meant that we were limited to about six bloodlines as only about 40 per cent of  South Devon breeders have gone down the performance recording route.

“More recently the development of a DNA test to identify polled genetics has opened up the number of bulls available and speeded up the process of identifying stock to keep. We have also introduced one or two new bloodlines to try to breed a polled bull from traditional bloodlines with the attributes and traits which are valuable to the breed.”



Another exciting new addition to the herd is a homozygous polled bull with totally unrelated bloodlines from the Sexton herd which should guarantee to produce polled offspring.


John says: “The is a perception by some breeders that polled South Devons were not true to the breed, but studying data from Breedplan as to how polled cattle perform against traditional cattle show there is no difference.”


The Hadley’s also use Breedplan as a management tool to identify female lines with the most valuable traits of ease of calving, milk and mothering ability. Rob says: “Selecting the best lines on this basis can make a big difference to the margin per head.”


However, Rob would like to see the current recording system extended to include more traits such as feed conversion efficiency, eating quality and pelvic measurements of females.


He says: “We need to keep progressing the breed and if we could incorporate some of these factors into the recording system it could add value to certain bulls and bloodlines.


Before they can be registered all South Devon males have to be tested for the Myostatin gene for double muscling. They can then be identified as a 0, with no copy of the gene, a 1 (one copy of the gene from one parent) or a 2, (two copies of the gene, one from each parent).



The Hadley also test their females for the gene and recently have also been taking pelvic measurements of females. Rob says: “We opt for a 1 to avoid calving complications with double muscle but want to retain natural fleshing capabilities.


Likewise, only bulls which have good figures and are true to breed type are kept and sold for breeding.  The remainder go, at about 400 days old, to Much Meats, Whitney, weighing around 700kg.


About 25 per cent of females are kept as replacements with others mainly sold to pedigree or, increasingly, commercial breeders. Rob says: “Over the last five years the female trade has been superior to that for bulls. There is a strong demand from commercial buyers who are crossing them with other native breeds such as Galloways or continental breeds.


"As pedigree breeders I don’t think we should under estimate the value of this commercial market and we need to continue to grow it. Commercial buyers often appreciate and are prepared to pay for figures whereas in the pedigree market unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be a premium for performance recorded animals.”



Showing has always played its part in promotion of the herd and this year the Hadley’s have taken the breed championships at Nottinghamshire County and Suffolk Show where they also had the champion and reserve female.


Rob says: “We like the competition and prestige of showing, it’s a good shop window and is fun, although expensive, and we are looking forward to competing at the Livestock Event for the first time at what is effectively our local show.”

Hadley Farms


  •  536ha (1300 acres) of owned, rented and contract farmed land at various locations
  • 75 pedigree South Devons plus followers kept at the 243ha (600acre) home farm with selected grazing some outlying land.  
  • Land includes 73ha (180 acres) of permanent pasture including low lying water meadows and parkland in HLS
  • Remainder of land for arable production
  • Flock of 100 Texel cross Lleyn ewes

Show classes

The competitive element of the Livestock Event continues to grow and once again the show ring will be situated in the Genetics Zone.


A highlight of the event will be the National Dairy Show which includes the national shows for the Ayrshire, Brown Swiss and British Friesian cattle societies as well as sections for Jerseys, Holsteins and Dairy Shorthorns.


New this year is a commercial stalls area for pedigree breeders with dairy cattle for sale.


The Aberdeen-Angus Junior Championship, the National British Blue Show and the British Charolais National show will be returning and the South Devons will be making their debut at the event. There is also the National Lleyn sheep competition.

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