Out wintering cattle can be worth the effort
by Jeremy Hunt
There is no better or more profitable way to
keep suckler cows than out-wintering them, believes one hill
producer who has been practising it for more than 25 years.
out-wintering on the Pennine Moors
Bryan Hough grazes 100 cattle on exposed hill land up to 360m
at Burn Edge Bent Farm, Grasscroft, Oldham. But cattle never
come inside and rely on haylage fed outside from December until
May. Cows calve in batches all year and even autumn and winter
born calves thrive outside.
And as subsidy is withdrawn and incomes come under pressure,
Mr Hough believes a return to hardy breeds and low-cost management
could secure a decent return. "Keeping cows outside isn"t
an easy option, but it's the most economical. We save on buildngs
and slurry collection, and have healthier cows."
His herd includes 40 Whitebred Shorthorns and 20 pedigree
Galloways, plus Blue-grey cows - produced by using the Whitebred
Shorthorn on Galloway cows. It"s these hardy sucklers
that are once again attracting renewed interest from suckled
"The Blue-grey was one of the most popular suckler cows
on hill farms and we're now seeing a big demand for them. I
only have to put one advert in and the phone is red hot," says
Galloway cows are also attracting renewed interest from German
breeders, who bought his cattle prior to the export ban. "They've
expressed an interest in Blue-grey cows and Whitebred Shorthorns.
When the ban is lifted, I"m sure we"ll see a strong
demand from Germany," he says.
"The Blue-grey is a remarkable suckler cow. The demand
is strong as more people realise she"s a cow that'll look
after herself and look after you," says Mr Hough.
Bryan Hough at
the Cheshire Show demonstation of traditional breeds
with Burnedge Goldie and her calf at foot Burnedge
Cows due to calve are moved into pasture close to the steading
and have access to a building at night. All calves are injected
against braxy at birth, but apart from that receive no other
treatment. Other cows remain on the hill and are fed in ring
feeders alongside stone tracks constructed across the hill
Surplus bulls and heifers are finished off the hill at about
22 months old. Only occasionally are any brought inside for
a few weeks of feeding on a coarse ration.
"We're selling to a local abattoir at up to 330kg deadweight.
Local butchers and restaurants clamour for the beef which has
a wonderful flavour," says Mr Hough.
The herd's Galloway stock bull, Glenkiln Arthur, is now 12
years old. This 50% Canadian-bred bull, a past Royal Show breed
champion, has passed on his scale and stretch to his pure-bred
"Traditional breeds have to combine hardiness with shape
and size. We don't want them too big, but this bull has given
us just the right lift in conformation. That's being passed
on to the Blue-grey cows and its making them a good commercial
"But keeping a suckler herd used to be a low-cost business,
now it has almost become as intensive as keeping dairy cows.
That's where the money is being lost."
The Blue-grey cow will comfortably suckle a big Continental-sired
calf, says Mr Hough. "She has bags of milk and, if anything,
carries too much condition. And unlike Continental crosses
which might produce five calves in a lifetime, they will produce
up to twice that.
"They go into winter carrying plenty of flesh and will
withstand the worst weather." Burn Edge Bent Farm has
more than 1500mm of rainfall a year. "There's no spring
here until May and winters come early, but cows stay out."
The farm doesn't use any artificial fertiliser and makes all
its own forage. The only costs are two loads of straw and magnesium
syrup which is offered year-round.