The Dixon family, who made the decision to switch to Stabiliser cattle for their beef enterprise in 2004, will be opening their doors to the Beef Expo farm tour. Hannah Park reports.
Kit Crag, Selside, Kendal, is home to the sixth generation of the Dixon family.
Comprising 445 hectares (1,100 acres), it is run alongside the 175ha (420 acres) Yoad Pot which sits next door.
About 101ha (250 acres) of the land is enclosed fell, with 75 per cent classed as Severely Disadvantaged Area, climbing to an altitude of 440 metres (1,450ft).
This supports the farm’s 220-head Stabiliser suckler herd, 1,200 Swaledale ewes and 12,000- bird free range layer poultry unit.
James Dixon, who farms with his parents, Tony and June, brothers, Andrew and Richard, and his sons, Mark and Steven, explains how the family built up numbers after the decision to cease dairy production.
He says: “It was a case of expand or get out of dairying at that point, so we installed the poultry unit and decided to build numbers on the existing 40-head suckler herd of mostly Limousins crosses.
“The original plan was to use a Stabiliser bull on the heifers and a Charolais on the older cows, but we never bought the Charolais.”
After selling the dairy stock and buying-in beef heifer calves from local markets, the family began building numbers and working towards a pure-bred Stabiliser herd.
He says: “We rate the ease of management you get with the Stabilisers. They are easy calving and docile and are bred for what the commercial meat market of today wants.
“They hold flesh incredibly well without too much input. Having upped numbers from 160 to 200 in the last five years, we have continued to make the same amount of silage and still have some left to sell as the Stabiliser manages on less feed.”
In a move away from castrating the non-pure bred males to sell as stores, this year all bull calves will be kept entire and finished aged 12 to 14 months at 360-370kg to sell via the Morrisons Yearling Beef Scheme.
Heifers are predominantly kept as replacements, with some 60-70 going to the bull each year. Most of these will be kept, with some sold incalf or beforehand as bulling heifers.
“We also started using embryos in 2006,” says Mr Dixon.
“This was predominantly for new bloodlines for our bull sires as well as some heifer replacements, so we do not need to buyany breeding bulls. We do about 10 per year now and have started artificially inseminating (AI) some of the heifer replacements derived from embryos to bring in top quality bloodlines.
“With five AI-ed last year, this has produced one of the most highly regarded bulls to date, Selside Ultra, a yearling in close running for the top profit index in the country. We have also used estimated breeding values as a management tool since we began breeding Stabilisers and used electronic tags in cattle for three years.”
He added: “We need to be producing breeding stock with top figures to be competitive with other bull breeders, but still think it is important to like the look of an animal and we will only sell those which have both.”
Calving started on April 14 this year running over seven to eight weeks, with the first half calving inside. Cows are turned out around May 12, as, despite favourable weather this year, conditions at Kit Crag usually do not allow turn-out any sooner.
This dictates calving dates, together with the shed space available on the farm.