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Blondes thrive in Peak District

Making the switch from dairying to British Blonde cattle is proving successful for one Derbyshire farmer. Neil Ryder reports.


After seeing British Blonde cattle on a relative’s farm in Cumbria and reading an advertisement for them, Derbyshire farmer Charles Mycock decided to buy a cow with heifer calf at foot and an in-calf heifer. That was 2006 and this year his Whitepeak herd has collected the small herd trophy in the Midland Blonde Club herd competition.
Mr Mycock says: “I liked the look of Blonde cattle and my father liked them too. We just felt it would be good to have some Blondes on the farm and we did not look at any other beef breed.”

The Blonde herd is based on about 20 breeding cows plus five heifers running with the bull. The farm also carries about 50 assorted suckler cows all put to Blonde bulls for spring calving with calves either retained as herd replacements or sold at nine to 12 months of age.

Up until 2006, Town Head Farm, Flagg, Buxton was home to the Flagg pedigree Holstein herd, with Mr Mycock farming in partnership with his brother who was dairying on a second farm. It was decided dairying could not continue at Town Head without major investment.

The milkers were moved to his brother’s farm and Town Head switched to heifer rearing until the partnership split up in 2009. Mr Mycock decided the way forward lay in suckler beef production plus a small sheep flock.

He says: “I went round local markets buying beef calves, mostly heifers to be retained to form a suckler herd. Bull calves were reared and sold either as store or finished animals. Calves were mostly bred out of dairy herds with some Limousins, plus Aberdeen-Angus, British Blue, Herefords and a few Simmental crosses.

“I was not really concerned about breed or cross as long as they were the right type at the right price. The Aberdeen-Angus and Hereford crosses suited this farm well, but the Limousin crosses generally did not last long as they tended to be a little wild.”

Meanwhile the pedigree Blonde herd was gradually being increased. Up until 2008, Mr Mycock had relied on artificial insemination, but it came to a point where he needed a bull, so he visited a Yorkshire farm which hired them out. His plan was to hire the Blonde bull Kinaston Rene, a Kinaston Henry VIII son.

He says: “When I got there I liked Rene so much I asked if I could buy him. I liked his shape and muscling, with plenty of meat in the right places going through the loin and the back end. Also, his temperament was really good.

“Temperament in all our cattle is important as we have a popular footpath running across the farm where we graze our sucklers. I also run the farm mostly on my own, so I need cattle which are calm and easy to handle. Anything giving concern about temperament is immediately sent for slaughter so it can no longer be used for breeding.”

Current Blonde stock bulls are Allacott Judge, by Allacott Champ, and Treales Harold, by Kinaston Carlos. Both were bought privately; Judge in April this year and Harold in December 2013.

“From the start I have always tried to buy good Blonde heifers, though have never given big money for any of our present cows. Temperament, milking ability, conformation and good shape with good loin are all important.”
Management of commercial and pedigree cattle is on similar lines, the only difference being the commercial sucklers are May calving while the pedigree Blondes calve all year, with a strong bias towards summer. This, says Mr Mycock, means if a pedigree animal slips back on calving there is no problem keeping her in the herd.

Winters are hard in the Buxton area, meaning turnout is usually in early May, with stock remaining out until the end of October or early November if conditions allow. In summer, the herd relies on grazed grass with a little creep feeding of calves in late summer.

Calves are fed straw, haylage and ad-lib concentrates after weaning and housing, with the aim of maintaining growth and not losing condition before selling them the following spring.
The spread of calving means winter management of the pedigree herd has to be more flexible as some calves will be suckling through the housed period. Cows are fed just silage and haylage in both cases.
James Collantine, Dugdale Nutrition’s ruminant specialist, explains the creep feed used is a 16 per cent protein ration based on wheat and barley, giving the starch needed to help the rumen develop, plus many sources of protein for frame growth.
At housing this changes to a 14 per cent protein finishing nut with less wheat and more maize.

Mr Collantine says: “Starch is still needed for energy but maize is slower to degrade in the gut, so less ‘fizzy’ at higher feed rates. A buffer is included to prevent acidosis. Simple sources of protein are included, just enough to feed the rumen bugs which will help breakdown fibre in the forage element.”
Mr Mycock sees showing as important for promoting the Whitepeak herd and the British Blonde breed.

He says: “Treales Harold has been breeding exceptionally well with one of his daughters, January 2015-born Whitepeak Mina, winning the second prize calf under eight months at the National Show. This was a real achievement at just four months old, competing against much older calves. She was also shown successfully at foot.
Two heifers were bought from the Egerton herd, with Egerton Index winning the Ashby junior championship in 2014, returning to collect breed and reserve inter-breed championships and first senior heifer at Royal Three Counties last year.
Blonde pedigree heifer calves are mostly retained in the herd, while pedigree bull calves undergo a stringent selection process before being offered for sale. Any pedigree animal not meeting these criteria will be finished for beef. Sales are a mix of private deals and auction through Beeston, Newark or Chelford beef breeding sales. Commercial suckled calves are sold through Bakewell mart, selling to £980 last year and averaging just under £700.

Mr Mycock says: “Since we came out of milking, there has been plenty of grass for all our stock. We just bought-in 100 store lambs to take the grass back.

“In terms of cattle numbers, I would like to get to the stage where we have about 50:50 pedigree and commercial cattle. A limiting factor is buildings as the pedigree herd calves all year which means some cows will be suckling through the housing period, needing additional space.”

Farm facts

  • Town Head Farm, Flagg, Buxton, has been farmed by the Mycock family for 120 years
  • 81 hectares (200 acres) with the farmstead at 305 metres (1,000ft) above sea level, rising to (411m) 1,350ft at the top
  • All permanent pasture and, while rainfall is ‘quite high’, underlying limestone makes for free draining land
  • One pedigree Blonde cow has calved successfully at 13 1/2 years old
  • Cattle are housed over winter in the former dairy housing
  • No routine vaccinations are carried out, but calves are tag tested for BVD
  • Flagg is in a one-year testing area for bovine TB.

Dugdale Nutrition’s James Collantine gives guidance on successful suckled calf rearing

  • The aim is to maximize 200 day weight as this is the most effective, and efficient, time to convert feed into growth. Therefore, suckled calves need creep feed from 2-3 months old
  • Benefits of creep feeding are higher weaned weights – typically 25kg. There is also less risk of pneumonia at housing and reduced risk of a check in growth when diets are changed at housing
  • At four months, old only half the calf’s nutrients should be coming from milk. The rest should be a combination of grazed grass, silage and creep feed
  • Each change in feed should be gradual to prevent checks in growth. Consider silage from August onwards
  • The cow still needs to produce milk so the silage is for mother and calf
  • Magnesium supplementation is needed to prevent staggers at grass
  • Assess the body condition of the dam when the calf is 200 days old. The calf should be getting less than 25 per cent of its nutrients from milk. If the cow has lost too much condition wean immediately
  • Wean when consumption of concentrate is 3-4kg per day
  • Initial creep feed should be 16 per cent protein to ensure good frame growth. Grass and milk proteins are often high enough to enable only a 14 per cent protein creep, but variability in grass quality can be smoothed out by using a 16 per cent creep
  • Introduce a 14 per cent protein, high energy ration four to six weeks before sale. Typically, this can be fed ad-lib and many of the better ones contain a yeast which will ensure a stable rumen pH on these higher starch diets
  • Plenty of fresh water and roughage should always be available and the diet should always contain 25 per cent of a fibrous element – silage, and to a lesser extent straw
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