Andrew & Caroline Ivinson's article in Beef Shorthorn Journal 2015.
Andrew and Caroline Ivinson found a solution in the Beef Shorthorn more than 10 years ago, and today the breed is delivering a great deal more than they ever anticipated.
Firstly, the herd has proved conducive to their low input hill unit rising to 2,000 feet and which is in an HLS agreement, whilst stock thrives throughout the summer, grazing common rights on Cross Fell. The couple are also enjoying the resurgence in demand for Beef Shorthorn breeding stock from suckler producers who are likewise seeking that functional cow, whilst demand from Morrisons Traditional Beef Scheme for Beef Shorthorn cross steers – formerly a by-product, has introduced a new bottom in the market place and for them, put the icing on the cake.
“We put a toe in to the Beef Shorthorn water back in 2002 whilst restocking and at that stage still farming in the Lake District,” Andrew explains. “We always like to think outside the box and were determined to find a beef breed that fitted a Cumbrian hill farm environment yet equally important was temperament - we had a very young family of five children plus thousands of tourists walking through the farm each year. Added to that was our interest in pedigree stock – we fancied something we could show.
“We researched various breeds and decided on Beef Shorthorn, which at the time had just started to gain some popularity. We were fortunate to buy in some quality foundation stock and set out with a handful. The rest is history. Over the years we have gradually replaced bought in Continental cross cows with pedigree Beef Shorthorns both homebred and bought in to the extent the herd is now virtually closed. We have selected cattle for their bloodlines as well as those which are sound and correct in locomotion, average size and good confirmation and structure.”
Investing in a traditional breed fits not only the Cumbrian environment but also the Ivinson’s low input strategy. “Since relocating in 2007 to the family’s Sandwick Farm, Ousby which previously stocked a Continental cross suckler herd, we’ve found we have been able to increase stocking rate by more than 10% simply because our Beef Shorthorn is slightly smaller with a lower input requirement and is able to use more marginal land,” Andrew explains.
In fact the herd thrives on poor quality forage, and in particular during the summer months, when all the autumn calving cows and in calf heifers are turned out on to the commons grazing “They are hefting themselves on a small corner of Cross Fell amounting to over 10,000 acres which is predominated by moorland species. They come off the fell in mid-September to calve down on in bye the following month, fit yet certainly not fat. One of the breed’s big strengths is ease of calving, I leave them to get on with the job and they do literally calve on their own, the calves have a relatively low birthweight and they’re up quick and suck themselves.”
Fertility is reflected in the fact 75% of the herd put to the bull calves within the first three weeks, the cows are certainly looking after their calves with an average 94% reared, whilst those calves are achieving our target 1kg per day within the first 200 days.
The Ivinsons are advocates of using Breedplan, the breed society’s genetic evaluation system. “The resulting performance data is a really useful tool to help us to select more accurately for maternal traits – milk, ease of calving plus growth or in other words the entire package,” says Andrew. The Ivinsons latest herd sire to be introduced is within the breed’s top 1% for 200 day weight.
Achieving a closed herd is next of their agenda. “It’s something we aspire to in order to minimise health issues along with the vet bill and bring peace of mind. We are members of a CHeCHS scheme, and the herd is fully accredited for both BVD and Johne’s and vaccinated for BVD. Furthermore, Beef Shorthorn is enabling us to breed all our own herd replacements.”
Even though time is of a premium during the summer months, the couple manage to prepare a show team. Their efforts have been rewarded in the local ring as well as further afield at major shows including the Royal Highland and Royal Welsh. Their cattle sold off their farm have also gone on to achieve success including female champion at the Great Yorkshire Show with Sandwick Duchess Zoe.
Andrew adds: “Investing in Beef Shorthorn is a decision we’ve never regretted. We are confident our cattle will continue to provide a sustainable future not only for ourselves, but other beef producers seeking genetics to breed that functional suckler cow.”