New calves join farm’s low-carbon cattle herd
Amid urgent new calls to reduce livestock industry emissions, a Norfolk farm has highlighted the carbon-saving benefits of its feed-efficient cattle. Andrew Spinks runs the Mill Meadow herd of Stabiliser cattle on rented grassland at Oxnead, near Aylsham, with his father Ian. The herd is growing, with an impressive calf born on Sunday being the first of an expected 60 due to arrive in the next 12 weeks.
It coincides with this week's report by conservation charity WWF, which says UK agriculture must reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by at least 35pc by 2030 in order to meet climate targets. But while beef cattle are often cited as one of the world's biggest contributors to agricultural emissions, Mr Spinks said his forage and grass-fed cows are part of "one of the best cattle systems for greenhouse gas reductions".
The Stabiliser breed was developed in America in the 1970s, prioritising traits such as feed efficiency, with quick-growing calves and highly-fertile heifers which mature early enough to be calved at two years of age.
"What is really important, and what we want from a cow, is how efficiently it turns grass and forage into beef," said Mr Spinks. "We are not using anything fancy, just forage, and during the summer they are grazing grass. We are able to do that because they are a relatively small cow. If the animal is more efficient it is producing less emissions. It is efficient for carbon, and for our finances, so it is a double win."
According to analysis by the Stabiliser Cattle Company and consultants at Alltech E-CO2, a combination of management and genetic changes can reduce the carbon footprint of a UK beef suckler unit by up to 40pc. These carbon savings can be made with incremental gains from measures such as reducing cow size, calving heifers at two years old and using genetics for improved feed efficiency and faster growth to reduce finishing time, says the report.
Mr Spinks said: "It is like the British Olympic team, looking at all these 1pc wins, adding up to the big saving. As well as focusing on our efficiency traits, we are focusing on health traits, because if an animal is more healthy over its lifecycle it produces more meat."
Because the Mill Meadow herd is fed on homegrown grass and forage, it also avoids the huge carbon cost of imported feed using soya linked with deforestation in South America. The first of this year's calves is likely to be a future breeding bull with "profit index" credentials putting it among the best in the country.
"This calf was born from artificial insemination to a mother who is particularly good, and the father was called Snipe House Ukulele, a really good bull," said Mr Spinks. We use a scoring system which tells us what the likely profit will be. The profit index for the mother was £20,000 and for the father it was £24,000, so the offspring are highly likely to be in that area, which would put it in the top 5-10pc of the breed in the UK."
Regarding the WWF report - and the general environmental arguments against meat production - Mr Spinks said he was confident that systems like his could eventually be seen as part of the solution to reducing agriculture's carbon footprint.
"In a way, I am becoming more confident about this beef system, because it is an integral part of a farming system which is becoming increasingly important in terms of building fertility in the soil. Grazing these big animals on natural grassland has a spin-off in terms of habitat creation and maintaining the landscape and habitats in places like Norfolk and the Broads. We are working with a really scientific, precise and hopefully profitable beef system, but at the same time we are understanding and respecting how we fit in the environment as well.
"In five years' time, beef will be a success story because of that. I think we are creating a system which is future-proof."
Hill C. 2022 New calves join farm's low-carbon cattle herd, Eastern Daily Press, viewed 14th Feb 2022, https://www.edp24.co.uk/news/business/new-calves-join-low-carbon-stabiliser-beef-herd-8683364
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