AHDB Beef & Lamb Improved Herd Awards 2015

Heathbrow Herd Wins Most Improved Herd Award for the Simmental breed

 

Heathbrow herd, owned by David and Lesley Sapsed from Hitchin in Hertfordshire, has been recognised by AHDB Beef & Lamb as the Most Improved Herd of British Simmental cattle in England for 2015.

The award is presented by the AHDB Beef & Lamb Better Returns Programme (BRP) to the recorded herd that shows the greatest genetic gain for commercial characteristics over a 12-month period. There is a separate award for each of 10 UK breeds.

Canadian genetics kick start polled herd 

The Heathbrow pedigree Simmental herd was established at High Heath Farm in 1996, following the dispersal of a dairy herd, and it has gradually replaced an existing mainly crossbred suckler herd. There are now 40 pedigree sucklers and 60 progeny on the 260 hectare (650 acre) farm, which also grows 200 hectares (500 acres) of cereals, with the assistance of long-term employee Kevin Jenkins. 

“We had a few pedigree cows when we had the crossbred herd and the Simmentals had a phenomenal growth rate compared with the other breeds and plenty of milk, so we chose to build up their numbers,” says David. 

“Lesley and I can manage them comfortably, having weeded out any temperament issues we came across.” They have now also proven they have great longevity on the farm. 

 

They decided at the outset that polled Simmentals were the future. They felt Canada was where the best polled cattle were at that time and imported a polled bull and heifer from the AWL herd.

“Unfortunately the bull had an accident and died leaving no heifer calves, but the influence of AWL Starlet has been tremendous winning 10 breed championships and five interbreeds,” David says. 

“However, her main contribution has been through her progeny. Although she has retired at over 20 years old, there are currently 19 descendants at Heathbrow, including three in the show team.” 

Not all female lines on the farm are polled, but where horned animals have been bought they have come from outstanding female families, explains David. However, polled stock bulls have always been used alongside polled sires selected for Artificial Insemination. The result of careful selection and breeding means the herd is now 60 to 70 per cent polled. 

Figures support pedigree stock selection

The current stock bull, Celtic Comet, was imported from Ireland three years ago and his progeny are almost all polled.  He has a Terminal Sire Index of 91 and Self-Replacing Index of 95.  He and the previous stock bull, Dirnanean Welcome 1, have both also had good Estimated Breeding Value (EBV) figures. 

“When we buy a bull, we have to like the look of him first, then we check the indexes and want them to be within the top 20 per cent of the breed,” explains David. 

The EBVs for Milk, Calving Ease and Gestation Length are also used as a management guide. Paying attention to Calving Ease Index in their bulls means the Sapseds have an easy calving herd. “Weighing the cattle regularly for Breedplan is a good discipline and highlights the above average 200 and 400-day weights,” adds David.

They also take a keen interest in the families of stock they buy. “It’s rare for us to buy a bull or heifer without seeing its mother, grandmother and sisters if possible.” 

The Sapseds enjoy showing their stock, with help from Richard Davis. Their successes include the breed’s National Show championships in 2013 and 2014 with different animals, and the Reserve Champion with Heathbrow Freddie Star 14, a grandson of AWL Starlet in 2015, so the look of animals is important. 

But these animals have also had good figures with Freddie Star having a Terminal Sire Index and a Self-Replacing Index in the top 20 per cent of the breed and the 2014 winner Heathbrow Duchess with both indices falling within the top ten per cent.

Performance recording boost sales

They started performance recording with Breedplan when some of the buyers of their pedigree stock began to ask for figures and it has also proven to be a good tool for managing the herd. “Combined with showing, it has helped move the herd upwards. We can see our EBV figures rising as we take out the bottom of the herd,” says David.

The quality of the herd means almost all bulls and heifers are sold from the farm. Often an initial contact is made at a show where doing well has helped build their reputation, but many repeat buyers continue to return when they want stock. 

The aim of the herd is to breed stock fit for pedigree breeding, as replacements and to sell to other breeders. There are inevitably a few that are not quite good enough for breeding and the Sapseds