Stabiliser Cattle Problems – Busting the Myths
As a composite animal, Stabiliser cattle fall neither into the continental nor the native breed category. This has caused some people to question precisely what they are and where they fit into the UK beef industry.
Of course, we believe they fit right at the top of the industry when it comes to producing everything the market is looking for. But we appreciate some of you might need a little more convincing.
That’s why we’ve decided to bust some of the myths surrounding this versatile, efficient animal, including some issues people might regard as problems.
But first, a little history
But before we get on to that, let’s answer the first question. What exactly is a Stabiliser?
Although neither a native nor a continental breed, Stabilisers have been bred to combine the best traits of both to create the most efficient and profitable suckler cow.
Stabiliser cattle are the product of trials conducted in the 1970s at the USDA Meat Animal Research Centre in Nebraska to investigate the benefits of composite breeding on cattle efficiencies, particularly in relation to heterosis, or hybrid vigour.
Of the three hybrids created, the one that proved most profitable in both cow/calf and feed yard performance was a 25 per cent composition of Hereford, Angus, Simmental, and Gelbvieh, which then became the basis for the modern Stabiliser.
To cut a long story short, the breed has since been continually refined by committed breeders initially in the states and in the UK since the 1990s.
Critically, one of the things that sets the breed apart from all others, is the sheer amount of performance data that exists on each and every Stabiliser animal born in a registered herd.
This data is so comprehensive and complete that it can be used to reliably predict the future performance of every Stabiliser, enabling farmers to make far more informed management decisions about their herd. This helps them realise huge efficiencies on inputs and produce carbon savings, which is becoming increasingly important within the current financial and sustainable climate.
So, what are the most popular myths surrounding Stabilisers and how have they come about? Read on and find out!
Stabilisers produce small calves which produce small adults!
This is one of our favourite rumours, because, like all good rumours, there is a grain of truth in this one.
Stabilisers have been selectively bred over generations to produce calves with a low birth weight to facilitate easy calving that requires far fewer interventions.
As a result, not only do Stabiliser farmers actually manage to sleep during calving, the incidents of dystocia, dead calves, and cows that won’t calve are generally lower than in other breeds.
But calving weight is only half the story. Stabiliser cattle have also been selectively bred over generations for high growth rate and feed efficiency, meaning they grow quickly on a grass-based system to hit target carcass specification earlier.
In short, they have been specifically created as curve benders.
In fact, the finishing time for Stabiliser steers is just 18 months and they achieve this with a low level of concentrate cost.
So, yes Stabiliser calves are born small, but not weedy. And it is intentional as it significantly reduces problems at calving time. But once they are out, they reach finishing weight quicker on less feed.
Stabilisers are not as shapely as continentals
Again, this is another belief that is based on truth. In fact, this is often said to deride Stabiliser cattle, but we don’t find it derisory at all.
It is true that if you like your bulls to look like Arnold Schwarzenegger circa 1974, Stabiliser cattle might not be for you.
But just like Arnold’s Mr Olympia-winning physique, some things are best for the show!
If, however, you want an efficient, profitable animal suited to the commercial world, Stabilisers very definitely are for you.
Stabilisers consistently grade R and U, and they will rarely achieve an E grade. But chasing the extra few pennies per kg an E grade animal will bring while forgetting to factor in the cost of getting there can make a big hole in your profit.
As a moderate-sized animal, Stabiliser bulls have high fertility and good feet, enabling them to bull a large number of cows. Cows birth easily making for efficient calving with far fewer problems.
They do this while consuming a lot less feed, enabling farmers to keep more animals on the same land. And with every cow birthing a calf each year, the production increases, making for a more profitable herd.
It is this combination of consistency, reduced interventions, and feed efficiency that makes returns for Stabilisers higher, and why we don’t mind if the bulls don’t look like Arnie!
Stabilisers are only good if used as bulls for finishing
Let’s start this one off by saying, yet again, there is truth in it. The truth is Stabilisers are great as bulls for finishing.
However, this is not the only place Stabilisers excel.
Many people underestimate the role of the cow in the suckler system and focus too much on a strong, terminal sire. But this is back to front as the cow is at the backbone of the system. She conceives the calf, carries it, calves it, and rears it.
Without a good mother, you have nothing worth finishing!
Stabiliser cows have been selectively bred to possess the traits needed to create a profitable suckler herd. This includes high fertility, great feed efficiency, moderate size, great mothering instincts and good producers of milk.
Stabiliser heifers achieve maturity early enabling them to successfully calve at two, helping to improve efficiency for farmers. Our heifers also make excellent finishers, consistently producing a 300kg, R and U grade carcass – just what the market wants.
You can’t out-winter Stabiliser cows
This is the first of our myths that has no grain of truth in it whatsoever.
In fact, due to the feed efficiency of Stabilisers, their ability to do well on marginal land, and their moderate size, they out-winter very comfortably.
Don’t believe us? We have a network of more than 100 multipliers stretching from the north of Scotland to the south of England, many of whom out-winter their cows every year without problems.
You can only buy Stabilisers via the Stabiliser Cattle Company
This one isn’t a myth, it is true – all pedigree stock is traded through us.
By doing this, however, it means we can keep a close eye on quality and ensure Stabilisers are fit to perform.
A lot of animals sold via the Stabiliser Cattle Company are viewed directly by a member of our sales team to ensure we will never sell you the wrong animals. We are not after a quick sale and aim instead to build relationships with farmers.
With the amount of data we hold on individual Stabiliser cattle, and our ability to accurately forecast trait development in youngstock, we can match animals precisely to your needs and improve your herd based on science rather than judgement or guesswork.
Couple this ongoing consultancy aimed at helping you improve efficiency, profitability, and competitiveness in the marketplace, and you start to get an idea of the value the Stabiliser Cattle Company can bring to your suckler operation.
Building a profitable suckler herd takes time and we want to make sure that you get the animals to suit your farm and your system.
The Stabiliser Cattle Company tell you what to do
The Stabiliser Cattle Company offers a range of comprehensive services that will help you to improve the efficiency and profitability of your suckler herd.
But it is not an all-or-nothing arrangement. You can adopt Stabilisers into your herd without involving us. After all, it’s your farm, your cows, you have a right to farm them as you wish. We’re here to support, but not to dictate.
We do not charge for these services. Our aim is simply to help you have the most efficient, profitable, sustainable suckler herd you can.
You have to go to Yorkshire to buy Stabilisers
As a proud Yorkshire company, we’d be delighted if you decided to visit God’s Own Country every time you needed to buy cattle. However, as desirable as that is, we understand it’s not always practical.
But don’t worry. With a network of multipliers ranging from the Orkney Isles in the north to Cornwall and Hampshire in the south, and from Norfolk in the east to the west of Wales and Tipperary in the west, you don’t have to travel too far.
To find a multiplier near you, click here.
So, we hope a few myths about Stabiliser cattle have been busted in this piece.
We understand the composite nature of the breed may cause some confusion but the traits they deliver should not. Stabilisers have been bred with one purpose in mind – to create the most efficient suckler cattle available – and by doing so increase the profitability for beef farmers in the UK and beyond.
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