Farmer Profile – Ian and Andrew Spinks
An insight in to one of our Stabiliser Multipliers, based in Aylsham, Norfolk. A father and son duo, Ian and Andrew Spinks farm 65 cows over 120 acres, as part of a family partnership which included mum Carol and brother James. Through renting land, they have made farming their own suckler herd possible.
How long have you had Stabilisers?
My father, Ian, visited the Givendale herd in 2008. The Givendale herd was one of the founding Stabiliser herds in the UK. He was very impressed with what he saw here and liked how the breed is extremely straight forward yet highly efficient. From this visit he bought the first Stabiliser bull for the herd that he was managing at the time. From this change it was possible to see direct improvements within the herd with calving ease and improved fertility. Two years later the farm invested in two more bulls, which then progressed to using Stabiliser AI in 2011. By using AI it allowed us to select for the traits we wanted and progress quicker. I was still at University at the time but remember the change well, the Stabiliser breed was still relatively new and I was impressed to see the breed was everything it claimed to be. We have used Stabiliser genetics ever since 2008 and became Multipliers of our own herd in 2017 By being a Multiplier we are part of a group of farmers across the country who are committed to improving the UK suckler industry, through breeding efficient animals which are profitable.
What did you farm previously?
The Mill Meadow herd is our first suckler herd that we own, I started it in 2012, we graze on meadow land alongside a river between two old water mills, hence the name. Dad was managing another herd which was originally using Limousin bulls before it changed to Stabilisers. In 2017 we formed a partnership from my cows and some cattle that dad bought in from the herd that he was managing to form Mill Meadow Livestock as it is today.
What is your current system?
We calved 65 cows this spring and have another 35 heifers to put to the bull. We run two Stabiliser bulls and synchronise most of the heifers plus a few cows to be AI’d to a Stabiliser.
We rent about 120 acres in the Bure Valley, Oxnead, Norfolk; the grassland sits alongside the River Bure within site of the remnants of the grand house Oxnead Hall, the seat of the Paston Family. Orchard Farm, our home base is ten minutes up the road at a village called Erpingham.
During the winter most of the cattle are outwintered on forage crops. Out-wintering is possible due to the light land we farm, and we find the Stabilisers are highly suited to this system. The early calving animals calve indoors, and the later calving animals calve outside. Nearly all our grassland is in environmental schemes.
The Stabiliser breed is perfect for our system as Dad and I both have full time jobs in other businesses. Due to the Stabiliser being forage efficient they do not require a lot of labour in feeding, and calving time is relatively relaxed due to the small birth weight calves.
What are the key benefits of the breed you have found? And which is the most beneficial?
We have found the breed to do well grazing low input environmental grassland. With our outwintering system it is pivotal that cows are docile and easy to manage, which we find Stabilisers are. We also appreciate their efficiency and how they consistently perform. Since breeding Stabilisers, we have found that our customers really like the animals and the qualities they provide, we find they usually return for more stock in the future.
What originally made you switch to Stabilisers?
I think the reason why we have Stabilisers is that we really value the scientific focused approach to breeding. It is obvious to see the rapid progress that is being achieved in performance from the efforts of the Stabiliser Cattle Company and the multiplier breeders. This all translates into economic performance which is required in the Suckler Industry.
Something which has surprised you about the breed?
What surprises me is that there are not more commercial herds rushing to invest in Stabiliser genetics.
We have not assisted a single cow during this calving season, and every calf was born alive. I was also extremely happy to get some great feedback from a customer who was so pleased with the animals he bought last autumn; they had also calved on their own with no bother.
Mill Meadow Stabilisers
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