Stabiliser cattle Temperament – The Economics of Docility
Despite agriculture employing just one per cent of the British workforce, as an industry it is responsible for 20 per cent of fatal workplace accidents – the highest proportion of any sector.
Although accidents in farming happen across the board, such as when operating heavy plant or driving vehicles off-road, a fair number of injuries and even fatalities occur when working with cattle.
And it isn’t just stockmen or women who are at risk. Vets can often end up being injured in the line of duty when trying to treat cattle, and there have been some particularly high-profile cases of members of the public being trampled when walking through fields where cattle are grazing.
With such pressures coming to bear, it is little wonder many farmers are beginning to look at the more docile breeds to make their own lives easier and safer, and to reduce the risk to others.
In this article, we look at why this not only adds up from a health and safety point of view but also financially.
Of course, docility is not just a factor in safety, as important as that is. Docile cattle also utilise more of their feed rations for what they’re meant for – creating protein – rather than burning off calories by acting up.
Studies in the US have also shown that reproductive performance positively correlates with docility. Essentially, this means that more docility cows produce more calves over their lifetime than those with a higher level of reactiveness, stress, and aggression.
When you combine these with the fact that docile cattle are less likely to injure themselves and therefore require less veterinary attention and treatment, a picture emerges that shows they are not just good for your health, they good for your pocket as well.
Docility bred into them
Stabiliser cattle have been specifically and continuously bred to exhibit a package of traits that make them the most efficient and profitable suckler animals available today.
Selecting for traits such as moderate size, improved feed efficiency, comfortably being able to calve at two, smaller calves, quick growth rate, quicker finishing times for youngstock, has created a performance animal that fairs very well on marginal ground, finishes on forage, and is easier to manage than an average suckler cow or bull.
By selecting for these traits, the breed has naturally become more docile as it has developed, and along with being polled, this makes it one of the easiest breeds to manage.
But docility hasn’t just been a by-product of trying to create an efficient suckler cow – docility has a medium to high heritability rate, meaning by selecting the right cattle to breed from, you can shape a breed’s temperament over a relatively short period of time.
This is what breeders in the US have been doing for decades, and our network of multipliers in the UK is continuing to refine.
Seth Waring, Business Manager of the Stabiliser Cattle Company, said docility was one of the traits the breed’s originators wanted to establish early on because ease of management was a key factor in creating a truly commercial herd.
He said: “Although in certain circles there is a level of machismo attached to having huge, heavily-muscled and aggressive bulls, the reality is that more docile breeds have more to offer the commercial farmer.
“From a financial point of view, docility equates to better feed efficiency, higher fertility, lower vet bills, and less equipment and housing damage.
“But it also means much less risk to life and limb. Aggressive bulls and cows are a real risk to the people who come into contact with them, either professionally or via leisure activities, and they perpetuate these qualities in their progeny which can cause major problems, as well as performing sub-optimally as a commercial animal.
“In the worse cases, they can even have career-shortening consequences for those managing them, which can be disastrous for farmers who need to be physically fit to run their businesses.”
One farmer who is benefitting from the docility of Stabilisers is Dick Roper.
Dick runs a herd of 160 Stabiliser cattle on his 3,800-acre organic farm at Eastington, near Northleach in Gloucestershire, after having changed from a traditional herd of Angus x Simmental last year.
He described it as a ‘very commercial decision’ to go with the breed.
Dick said: “Slaughterhouses are wanting lighter stuff now.
“Stabilisers produce a good quality, medium-sized carcass, which is what the market is favouring.
“Temperament was a big selling point too. They are unbelievably docile, the bulls as well, and they have good feet. I’m very happy with them.”
Another farmer who recently swapped to Stabilisers is Richard Roderick, the Farmers Weekly’s 2015 Sheep Farmer of the Year.
Richard, of Newton Farm, near Brecon in Powys, wanted a more efficient system utilising hardier, more docile animals, but the decision to go with Stabilisers happened after one of his Limousin cows caught him, leaving him with a broken thumb and needing 12 stitches to his head.
Richard said: “We wanted to head towards a self-replacing herd that was docile and we could be in control of our replacements.
“The Stabiliser seemed to fit the bill so we quietly went down that road and we’ve been very pleased.”
Seth added that with the markets beginning to favour smaller animals, and reducing BPS payments now beginning to bite, there was a mounting case for looking beyond the standard breeds for better performance.
He said: “Docility is just one piece of the jigsaw. It drives economic gains, for sure, but there are many other factors at play.
“Stabilisers have been selected for performance through data.
“This not only means we know how the breed as a whole performs, it means we can reliably select the best individual animals for a farmer’s herd and predict what traits it will bring to that herd with a very high level of confidence.
“This and the ease of handling means Stabilisers have the ability to transform the viability of a farm and the working life of the farmer.”
For more information about Stabiliser cattle, get in touch on (01377) 227790 or email email@example.com.
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