What is the Stabiliser Breed?
One of the questions we regularly get asked is what actually is the Stabiliser breed. Everyone familiar with livestock farming in the UK, particularly in the beef sector, will understand the terms native and continentals breed, as well as their traits and the differences between them. Yet despite being a truly commercial breed, Stabilisers don’t fall into either of these categories, which can cause some confusion.
With that in mind, in this article, we will take a deep dive into what Stabiliser cattle actually are, why they were created, and what traits they bring to the UK beef sector.
The first thing to understand about the Stabiliser is it is a composite breed. This means it is made up of several different breeds, carefully selected on a scientific basis to create an animal that has a range of specific traits. The name of the breed is taken from the fact that over successive generations of careful breeding, these desirable traits ‘stabilise’ and continue to be expressed in future generations, creating an animal that performs well for commercial beef farmers of all types.
Many people struggle to understand the difference between a composite breed and a crossbred animal, and it is easy to see why – there is certainly some overlap in the definitions insomuch as both include crossing different breeds together.
But the generally agreed difference is that a crossbred animal is produced by mating a purebred bull of one breed to a purebred cow of a different breed. A composite breed, however, is the result of mating crossbred bulls, comprising of two or more breeds, to crossbred cows, repeatedly, until the traits you want in the breed become fixed.
It is this that makes the Stabiliser a pure breed in its own right, as opposed to a crossbred animal. It has been bred for successive generations so it now breeds true to type and was officially recognised as a breed in 2014.
Why breed different breeds together at all?
So, we have composite breeds and crossbred cattle, but why mix pure breeds at all?
There are two general reasons to cross-breed cattle, or any livestock together. The first is because different breeds express different traits that commercial breeders want to bring into their herds.
Some breeds, for example, produce cows with strong maternal instincts and these do a great job of raising their young, meaning the farmer can be confident of healthy youngstock to form the foundation of this breeding herd.
However, to breed animals that are saleable for slaughter, the farmer needs to introduce other qualities into his herd such as carcass size and quality, which are likely to be missing from cows used for breeding. This is done by mating select cows to a different breed of bull called a terminal sire which produces fat cattle – the type of animals wanted by the meat industry.
The second reason to mate two or more different purebred animals together is a phenomenon called heterosis, or hybrid vigour. Hybrid vigour occurs when two unrelated animals, often of different breeds, are mated together, because of the genetic differences between them, and it results in the first generation of offspring showing the desirable traits of both parents to a greater degree than each of its parents.
The desirable traits could be size, fertility, feed efficiency, or any other trait required by the breeder. Whatever that is, by breeding two different breeds together, the trait will be optimised in the offspring.
Stabiliser Cattle and Hybrid Vigour
Because the Stabiliser is a composite breed, containing more than two breeds, it retains its high level of hybrid vigour down the generations. This, along with the careful selection of bulls and cows used by our multipliers to create the purebred stock, means the breed has been consistently and scientifically bred to create the perfect suckler cow. To ensure this continues, and hybrid vigour remains high, the Stabiliser Cattle Company imports embryos from America to continual improve the UK herd.
The traits Stabiliser cattle are selected for include:
By selecting for these traits, the Stabiliser is continually being refined to produce the world’s most efficient suckler cow.
But the process doesn’t end there. The Stabiliser Cattle Company collects and records the performance data from every breeding animal produced by our network of multipliers, enabling us to create the most comprehensive and accurate Estimated Breed Values (EBVs) of any breed.
This enables us to identify and match the best possible bull to any herd in the UK, to introduce the traits the breeder needs to produce marketable, profitable animals.
How Were Stabiliser Cattle Created?
We’ve learned that Stabiliser cattle are a composite breed as opposed to a crossbreed and that they have been selectively and scientifically bred to fix the traits required to create the most efficient and profitable suckler cow, but also to retain their hybrid vigour.
So, when, where, and how did they come about?
The Stabiliser was actually created in the 1970s at the USDA Meat Animal Research Centre in Nebraska. Scientists there wanted to investigate the effect of composite breeding techniques on cattle efficiencies and started to cross native British breeds, including the Hereford and Angus, with continental breeds, in particular Simmental and Gelbvieh.
After trying several composites, cows consisting of 25% Herford, Angus, Simmental, and Gelbvieh proved to be the most profitable in both cow/calf and feed yard performance, so these became the foundation stock of the Stabiliser.
Over time, the Hereford component was bred out and replaced with black South Devon, creating a predominately black and red animal.
The Stabiliser in the UK
Despite their stateside origins, Stabiliser cattle are now popular in many countries across the world, and in particular the UK.
The Stabiliser Cattle Company coordinates the breeding programme for more than 100 multipliers, who manage 12,000+ breeding cows to produce the best suckler beef genetics available on the UK today, creating cattle that drive profitable and sustainable beef production.
For more information on the breed, or to speak to us about the benefits of bringing Stabiliser genetics into your herd, get in touch on (01377) 227790 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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