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What is the breed mix of the Stabiliser®?
The MARC II Stabiliser® was developed in the 1970s years ago by the USDA Meat Animal Research Centre in Nebraska, USA as part of an experiment looking at the benefits of composite breeding techniques. Three different composites were created: MARC I, MARC II and MARC III. After extensive trials, the MARC II proved to be the most profitable both in cow/calf and feed yard performance. The initial MARC II was a 4 way cross between Hereford, Red Angus, Simmental and Gelbvieh with equal shares of 25% of each breed.
The principle of composite breeding is to combine breeds with complementary traits that are the best in their breed, capitalising on heterosis and re-making the crosses regularly to maintain heterosis. And because the genetic merit of all breeds change relative to each other over time what has happened is the Hereford component has been outclassed so it has been dropped from the Stabiliser composite breed. Other breed populations are continually being sampled to see if they can improve the ability to deliver, on the target, Commercially Relevant Traits to increase the profitability of the modern Stabiliser.
How did the Stabiliser® get its name?
The Leachman Cattle Company in Montana, USA, adopted the concept of the MARC II and developed it commercially within their Optimum Mainstream Crossbreeding Programme under the Stabiliser® brand name. The Leachman family proved that the MARC II provided a uniform, predictable and “Stable” outcome to crossbreeding and so called it the Stabilizer.
What colour are Stabilisers®?
Initially, the MARC II Stabiliser® cattle were all red with white faces. Over time, Black Angus has been introduced to the breeding programme as well as black Simmental, black Gelbveih and black South Devon, so currently the breed is a mixture of red and black cattle but black Stabilisers are now dominant. The reasons for the change are very simple: black cattle command a premium in the US beef market and because the Black Angus has such a huge population there is more selection pressure being put on a bigger gene pool so identifying the superior genetics.
Coat colour does not necessarily affect profitability so there is no point in worrying about it. Performance data is the key to profitability.
How can Stabiliser® be considered pedigree?
The Stabiliser® Cattle Company (SCC) is driving a new approach to pedigree breeding. The definition of ‘pedigree’ simply means, knowing the parentage (lineage) of all animals in the breeding programme. This is crucial in calculating genetic evaluations to drive breed improvement.
The Stabiliser is a ‘composite’ breed but, identifying and recording the traits each breed and individual contributes to breed more profitable animals, is the same process that operates in traditional ‘pure’ breeds.
What is BIG, the Beef Improvement Group?
Beef Improvement Group Ltd (BIG) is owned by 3 Yorkshire farming companies. It owns the Trademark, Intellectual Property rights, the pedigree and performance data for the Stabiliser breed and exclusively markets pedigree Stabiliser genetics in Europe.
The owners are JSR Farming, Birdsall Estates Co Ltd and R&J Farms. The company was formed in 1997 with the aim of developing a more profitable suckler cow type and after a period of research BIG decided on the Stabiliser breed.
BIG Ltd now trades as the Stabiliser® Cattle Company.
How is the breed organised?
The Stabiliser® breeding programme in Europe is controlled by Beef Improvement Group Ltd. The company manages the marketing and promotion of the breed and handles all sales of breeding stock.
The pedigree breeding stock is generated by over 100 co-operating breeders in the UK known as Multipliers who work within the BIG Multiplier Agreement. Between them, they own over 12,000 performance recorded cows. The importation of new bloodlines from the Leachman programme in the USA and the direction of genetic progress is organised by SCC.
How many Stabiliser® cows are there in the UK?
Currently, there are just over 12,000 performance recorded cows in over 100 Multiplier herds. Counting pure and cross-bred animals there are about 65,000 Stabiliser females in use in the UK and a further small, but growing, population in the Republic of Ireland.
BCMS records show the Stabiliser to be the fastest growing breed in the UK over the last 5 years.
Why should I consider Stabiliser® Cattle?
Very simply, the Stabiliser breeding model offers the most profitable suckler line in the UK. This presents a good opportunity to build a suckler herd using the most efficient cow that is available. The combination of Commercially Relevant Traits from the contributing breeds and the benefits of heterosis establish the Stabiliser as the most efficient cow on the market.
SCC continues to improve the animals through genetic selection. SCC was a key player in the introduction of maternal; n=beef traits to the evaluation system in the UK. SCC continues the development with the introduction of new EBVs such as Net feed Efficiency which will reduce the cost of beef production still further.
Beef is a commodity market and as such farmers are price takers so the opportunities to improve margins are largely about improving farm efficiency. However, the value of finished animals is also very important so meeting target slaughter specifications should be high on the agenda.
How do I buy breeding stock?
Pedigree breeding stock is sold by SCC’s staff. All stock is inspected and has to pass strict breed standards. Multipliers produce bulls, bulling heifers, in-calf heifers and occasionally cows with calves at foot for sale. Potential customers should contact SCC’s sales department which will recommend breeding stock and will administer the orders and sales process. Payment must be completed prior to delivery.
What is the pricing system?
The pricing system is based on the genetic merit of the animals. This is established by the ABRI evaluation system using EBVs and three multi-trait Breeding Indexes. The Multipliers collectively agree the pricing schedule each year.
Bulling heifers are priced based on their purity with full pedigree animals valued highest with lower prices for first cross (F1), second cross (F2), third cross (F3), fourth cross (F4) and fifth cross (F5).
What traits are you interested in improving in the Stabiliser® ?
The Stabiliser was first imported to the UK by BIG in 1998 to replace inefficient dairy cross beef cows. The key traits of the breed are those which provide profitable suckler production. These are a moderate-sized, feed efficient cow with excellent maternal performance for fertility and calving ease AND traits for finishing animals that will grow quickly to meet market specifications at a young age.
SCC aims to keep cow mature size at 650 kg at BCS 3. Bigger cows reduce output and profit per hectare and increase the risk of over-shooting target carcase specifications of the progeny.
The Stabiliser breed is performance recorded using the ABRI system. Multipliers send their data to SCC, then it is loaded onto ABRI and a range of EBVs and 3 multi-trait selection indexes are created for every animal.
What are you doing with Net feed Efficiency?
SCC has established a Growsafe feed evaluation unit at Wold Farm, Givendale in East Yorkshire which can measure the daily feed intake of individual animals in three batches of 80 cattle per year.
The unit evaluates young bulls from all main sire lines in the breed to identify those with the lowest Net Feed Efficiency (NFE) values. The aim is to identify those animals that eat less but grow at the same rate or faster than their contemporaries.
This important trait will reduce the maintenance costs associated with suckler cows as well as the feed costs for finishing cattle. In 2017, after 5.5 years collecting feed intake data, SCC launched the first EBV for NFE for any breed in the UK. Data from the feed intake trials has been used to calculate the current Feed to Gain EBV which is incorporated into the Stabiliser £Profit Index. The trait is moderately heritable (about 0.37) which is about the same a growth so good progress will be made in selecting more feed efficient animals for future generations, so reducing feed costs for Stabiliser breeders.
What are the carcase qualities like in Stabilisers?
Several thousand Stabiliser cattle have now been slaughtered by Morrisons. Feed-back to SCC on carcass grading has shown yearling bulls (max age 14 months) graded 25% U and 75% R at an average of 355kg carcass weight. Steers (18 to 23 months old) graded 3% U, 76% R and 21% O+ at 330kg carcass weight. Heifers (19 to 21 months) graded at 4% U, 66% R, and 30% O+.
What is the eating quality of beef like from Stabilisers?
SCC has carried out extensive eating quality trials on Stabiliser meat. Using Tenderscot technology and trained taste panels it has been established that the product ranks very highly for tenderness, juiciness and flavour. Tenderscot Shear Force readings have classified the meat as tender or very tender when compared with USDA meat quality standards. This combined with a forage based diets means that flavour is also excellent. Because the genetics have been developed in the USA where cattle are graded on marbling score, Stabiliser meat tends to be moderately marbled which improves juiciness and flavour compared to the leaner beef more often produced in the UK.
What is the relationship with Morrisons/ Woodheads?
In 2010 BIG formed a Marketing Partnership with Morrisons/Woodheads for Stabiliser-bred cattle that realises a premium for carcases meeting the target specifications. The Yearling Beef Scheme takes young bulls from 12 to 14 months old with a target carcase weight of 300-400kg, conformation grade R or better and a fat class of 3 or 4L. Steers and heifers are accepted up to 30 months old at the same carcase weight, conformation and fat classes as the yearling bulls.
SCC also co-operates with a specialist finisher with capacity for 700 head. Centralised finishing in a specialised unit improves the efficiency, economics and consistency of finishing for suckler herds that don’t have the resources to finish their own animals. The breeder retains ownership and pays the specialist finisher for feed and management. The economy of scale and finishing expertise means that the breeder can expect to make a better margin than retaining the cattle themselves.
What can I expect from Stabiliser® bulling heifers?
Stabiliser bulling heifers are bred to calve at 2 years old. They are only sold if they are correct and reach the minimum bulling weight of 400 kg at 14 months. The growth rate from weaning is aimed at 0.7 kg per day so it is possible to add or subtract 20kg for every month older or younger.
Stabiliser heifers are all veterinary inspected before sale to make sure they are not freemartins and not pregnant. Heifer management advice is given with each sale covering growth rates, body condition score and post-calving management.
SCC aims to cap mature cow weight at 650kg BCS3. It has been proved that output per hectare from bigger cows is lower and therefore less profitable than for more moderate framed cows.
What can I expect from a Stabiliser® bull?
Stabiliser bulls are sold as yearlings and are capable of working at 15 months old. Bulls are all veterinary inspected and semen tested before sale. They are sold with a management advice sheet that explains how to manage them correctly as they continue to grow towards their mature weight at 3 years old which is likely to be between 900 and 1200 kg, depending on the individual and BCS.
When they reach mature weight Stabiliser bulls will continue to work for many years if kept in good health and will breed up to groups of 50 cows.
It is standard practice to semen test all bulls prior to each breeding season.
What is the inheritance of horns and scurs?
Inheritance of Polledness, Horns and Scurs
Horns and scurs are controlled by different genes so even in a polled breed, scurs can still occur. The scur gene is separate from horn gene, therefore the inheritance of horns and scurs are entirely separate from each other. If an animal has horns it will hide the scur status because there will be horns growing where a scur might, or might not be!
Horns or polled
Being polled or having horns is controlled by one pair of genes. The polled gene (shown in short hand with a capital P) is dominant to the horned gene (shown in shorthand with a lowercase p).
If an animal has two polled genes it would be noted as a PP. This is also called homozygous polled because the two genes, one from each parent, are the same. If an animal has one polled and one horned gene it would be noted as Pp and it will be polled because the polled gene is dominant to horns. The Pp animal is heterozygous polled because the two genes, one from each parent are different. The only time an animal will be horned is when it has two recessive horned genes; noted as pp and called homozygous horned.
When a heterozygous polled (Pp) animal is a parent it could pass on either the polled or horned gene to its offspring. Table 1 shows the phenotype (expression) of polledness or horns in offspring from parents of different polled/ horned genotype matings.
Table 1 Possible offspring from mating various combinations polled/ horned parents
All offspring PP
½ PP and ½ Pp
½ PP and ½ Pp
¼PP, ¼ pp, 1/2 Pp
25% horned, 75% polled
½ Pp and ½ pp
50% horned,50% polled
½ Pp and ½ pp
50% horned,50% polled
Scurs are incompletely developed horns which are not attached to the skull. Not all horned cattle carry the gene for scurs and not all polled cattle lack the scur gene.
The way the gene for scurs is expressed depends on the sex of the animal. In bull calves the scur gene is dominant. So, if only one of the two genes is for scurs the bull will develop scurs. This makes it simple to identify bulls that carry the scur gene.
In females the scur gene is recessive. This means that for the cow to be scurred she must have both copies of the genes for scurs. If the cow has only one scur gene she will not have scurs herself but there is a 50 percent chance of passing the scur gene on to her offspring.
The smooth (nor scurred) polled cow may have the recessive scur gene which makes it much harder to get rid of without genetic testing.
Table 2 shows the scurred inheritance patterns. The presence of the scur gene is indicated by Sc and the absence by Sn.
Table 2. Scurred phenotype assuming all animals are homozygous polled
What is the £Profit Index?
The £Profit Index is an advanced, data-backed genetic selection tool weighing 11 Economically Relevant Traits (ERTs) against each other to identify the most profitable animals in the Stabiliser population. £Profit accurately compares cattle against each other based on relative differences in profitability. For example, if one sire has a £Profit of £15,000 and another has a £Profit of £10,000, the model predicts a lifetime advantage of £5,000 from the higher bull. This advanced system of genetic analysis gives those using Stabilisers a huge competitive advantage as they are able to select the most profitable animals in their breeding herds. It also greatly simplifies genetic selection by providing producers with a single £Profit figure to represent how profitable an animal will be during its lifetime production. The system also opens the door for UK Stabiliser producers to make genetic comparisons between cattle from three different countries, with more than 1 million animals in Australia, New Zealand and the USA on the database.
Economically Relevant Traits included in £Profit:-
Birth weight, weaning weight, yearling weight, milk production, dry matter feed intake, feed to gain, mature cow weight, scrotal circumference, eye muscle area, rib fat and intra-muscular fat.
We are trying to produce beef that meets market specification and make the most profit possible. Using Stabilisers we are achieving our objectives, we have a low cost, low labour cow and good quality finishing cattle that meet the needs of the market.- Mel and Pete Momber, Hampshire
I’m excited by the prospects the Stabiliser can deliver for us. The proof was there based on scientific research, backed up by a large gene pool and precise management systems. It seemed the perfect breed for our farming system.- Will Evans, Machynlleth
On weaning in May at 10 mths old the Stabiliser calves were on par with the Blue and Angus calves. These were turned out to grass until early September then housed. This is when I was surprised by the differences between the breeds, the Angus averaged 480kg, the Blues 490kg but the Stabilisers were 530kg.- Robin Talbot, Laois – Ireland
In 2011 we bought 46 Stabiliser heifers plus 3 bulls and sold our 3 Belgium Blue bulls. The results were clear to see, by the time we pregnancy tested our 100 cows later that year. We went from historically having 15% barren cows to only 3% barren in a 9 week mating period.- Jeremy Iles, Gloucester
I have found Stabiliser cows to be very forage efficient. Their ability to put weight on in the summer months means I can save on winter feed costs. This has allowed me to keep more cows on the same resources.- Jono Cole, Cornwall
We have an easy-care system that is as profitable as any other beef enterprise. We benchmark our herd against the AHDB industry figure and we sit comfortably ahead of the top third performers. I believe we are now producing a carcass with the conformation and eating quality consistency that the market wants.- Dan Burling, Cambridgeshire
Docility, feed efficiency tested, easy calving, hybrid vigour, fertility, growth AND carcass traits from highly maternal cattle, what’s not like?- Robin Norrie, Fife
We aim to get most out of grass as possible. The hardy nature of the cattle seems to suit this system very well. Hardly any assistance is required during calving, combined with the excellent calf vigour produce healthy and strong calves which further reduces labour costs.- Llion and Sian Jones, Conwy
We’re over 10 years into our Stabiliser journey, we’re reaping the rewards. Moving to the Stabiliser has been a game changer for efficiency and job satisfaction, allowing us to increase cow numbers on the same area and finishing bulls averaging over 380kgs at 13 months. Our only regret is that we didn’t do it sooner!- Peter and Jackie Storrow, Pembrokeshire
Stabiliser cattle are a specialised suckler beef breed with the added bonus of hybrid vigour. The cattle are multi-trait performance recorded to produce EBV’s, this has a huge positive economical effect on our business. All of this is crucial for us to have a financially improving suckler herd on the farm.- Harri Parri, Llyn Peninsula
We chose the Stabiliser breed for their docility and easy calving traits, but with the added benefit of turning grass into meat. We soon saw all of these traits were true. Our first home bred steers were finished off grass at an average age of 19 months.- Dyfed Roberts, Anglesey
Despite our rainfall, we outwinter our cows on kale, the stabiliser cow will lay down excess fat, and successfully rear her calf. During the winter considerable cost savings are made. By changing to Stabiliser cattle I keep approximately 50% more cows as they only weigh 650Kgs, which meant more beef being produced.- Matthew Cooke, North Devon
We started using Stabiliser bulls 20 years ago. The fertility of the breed has enabled us to calve our own heifers at 24 months and reduce our calving period to nine weeks. This together with their good temperament has encouraged us to increase cow numbers. Consequently, the farm is now producing a lot more kilos of beef.- Edward and Ellis Griffith, Pwllheli
Minimal labour is required at calving time, with easy calving cows and calves up and suckling in no time at all. This gave us the ability to increase our cow numbers with no extra labour. The growth rate of Stabiliser cattle is exceptional, producing high weaning weights whilst converting feed efficiently.- John and Ianto Pari, Gwynedd
We started using stabiliser genetics in 2016, we have not looked back since, they exceeded all our expectations. Changing to stabilisers has enabled us to calve heifers at 2years old with no problems, cows wean a higher percentage of their body weight, we have increased cow numbers without any need for extra labour.- Carys Jones, Camarthenshire