PART-TIME suckler farmer Raymond Archer from Ahoghill farms 110 acres of permanent grassland.
His herd currently consists of 60 cross-bred Simmental and Angus cows split into three management groups for calving, with everything taken through to beef.
The largest of these groups calve down in April and May, while two smaller batches are calved August and December. There are several reasons for splitting the calving in such a way – complimenting the grazing platform, better cash flow, utilisation of stock bulls, reducing disease burden in calving facilities, and ultimately to reduce labour and stress within the system.
The suckler beef enterprise was established in 2010. Previous to that Raymond finished around 260 cattle per year. He found it more difficult to achieve a profit when buying stores to finish. Now that the enterprise has diversified, Raymond is certain that a well-managed suckler herd with a focus on efficiencies and herd performance is a more sustainable model.
The first Simmental bull, Omorga Elias, was purchased five years ago. As a result of his success, a second Simmental bull, Hiltonstown Icebreaker, joined the herd in 2019.
Originally Simmental genetics were introduced for breeding replacements, but as the male progeny started to hit the ground and develop, it was evident that the breed had much more to offer in relation to its terminal attributes.
This farm now maximises the value of the home-bred Simmental male progeny through young bull production.
The young bulls are finished intensively at an average age of 13 months with carcase weights between 340kg-380kg, achieving R+ and U grades. They are finished at an ‘in spec’ weight range at a younger age.
The farm strives to select better genetics and these genetics can be more evident as they are efficiently utilised via finishing young bulls. The farm also finishes steers and heifers which are progeny of a native breed sire on farm, but the ‘bull beef’ model has proven to yield a greater return. Of the native bred steer and heifer system, lighter carcase weights are achieved and a greater cost derived from additional grazing and housing.
On average eight of the home-bred progeny are retained as replacements and the target service weight of these heifers is 450kg to 500kg at 15 months.
Raymond has the opportunity to enjoy a premium price for excess Simmental heifers produced on-farm. The Simmental replacements calve easily at 24 months of age at a moderate size with plenty of milk, and demonstrate superb maternal instinct.
‘Difficult calvings and big sleepy calves’ are certainly far from ideal for any part-time suckler farmer. This is certainly not the case on this farm as Simmental calves are easily born, quick to their feet and looking for their first suckle.
Since introducing Simmental genetics alongside enhanced performance, the herd has experienced a definite improvement in the temperament and ease of management of stock, another much desired quality for any farmer.
When selecting a sire for the herd Raymond, like many other farmers, aims to select a bull which has physical appeal as well as good feet and legs.
However, alongside those physical characteristics, Raymond realises the importance of using Estimated Breeding Values (EBV’S) as a tool to evaluate the suitability of a potential stock bull.
Calving ease, milk and 200 and 400-day growth are the most important traits when selecting a bull. Alongside the suckler beef enterprise Raymond runs a successful construction company. Over the next number of years he plans to scale up the suckler beef enterprise and allocate less of his time to the construction business.
Simmental genetics have played an important role in enhancing the physical and financial performance of Raymond Archer’s suckler herd.
The Simmental’s ability to execute both maternal and terminal traits compliments the breeding programme of a closed suckler herd policy.
For Raymond an efficiently managed suckler beef enterprise will form an important part in securing the future sustainability of his farm. He believes Simmental genetics will play a vital role in that future.