Pedigree Salers cattle have proved to be the right choice of breed for the Pyes. Brothers Terence and Malcolm Pye and their respective wives, Jane and Gill, set up their farming partnership more than 20 years ago at Leven Fields Farm, Middleton – on – Leven, Yarm.
Both Terence and Malcolm worked for large multi-national companies and while Malcolm and Gill had commercial beef cattle on their farm in Nottinghamshire, Terence and Jane were newcomers to the industry. “We both sold our properties and bought 90 acres here with buildings we were able to convert to accommodation for us. But Malcolm and I had to work full time off the farm and we wanted cattle that would be easycalving and easy to look after,” said Terence.
“We also wanted a breed that would grow in numbers and be significant in the beef industry.
Our first pedigree Salers were purchased in 1990 and, while numbers of the breed in the UK have increased and it is now our tenth largest beef breed, there is still huge potential.”
Through embryo transfer and selective breeding, herd numbers have been built up – usually 120 are calved annually, although extra sales of females have reduced that number this year.
Leven Fields now runs to 350 acres, primarily grassland with an arable rotation of 45 acres of winter barley, 25 acres of winter wheat and 15 acres of oats.
The maternal attributes of the breed have helped sell cattle from the Rigel herd. While newcomers to the breed may be sceptical, those who have bought the cattle have
frequently come back for more or have been converted to starting their own pedigree or commercial herd.
“It’s a more ‘technical’ sell than for terminal sire breeds. When potential purchasers are looking at our bulls, they can’t see that they will breed cows with a big pelvis for easy calving, good udders and longevity,” said Terence, who is a former treasurer and a council member of the Salers Cattle Society.
While the society has no official scheme for performance recording registered cattle, the Pyes have been weighing their cattle for many years and they adopt the US system of udder scoring. Measurements are also made of the pelvic area, which no other UK beef breed includes in its recorded traits.In the US, where the trait is measured, the Salers’ pelvic area is said to be the largest of any beef breed.
Salers bulls are also easycalving when crossed with other breeds as they produce a long, slender calf with a short gestation period.
It was Malcolm who first spotted the breed while on a business trip to France. All the family is convinced they made the right choice of breed.
“When you look at what’s happening with suckler production at the moment, a lot of other factors have been filling the picture diseases such as BVD, IBR, Johnes have all taken the focus off the genetics of the cattle and other efficiency factors,” said Malcolm.
“Nutrition has become so important with the rising costs of inputs. Salers have emerged as the clear leader as the suckler man’s breed of choice. The breed has found its place and it is growing, and big farming companies are now coming into the breed.”
When the Rigel herd was started, it was early in the history of the breed in the UK. The breed was first introduced to the UK in 1986 by Salers Ltd, founded by Canadian farmers who established an elite herd in Britain to be a source of top genetics for export to North America.
This business venture was thwarted when BSE led to an export ban, and the Salers Ltd herd was progressively dispersed.The Pyes were able to take advantage of the situation and bought some of the French imported females at the various dispersal sales. They also bought two older bulls, one of which was Bruno. “He weighed 1,500kg at the age of three but he was a ‘gentle giant’ and bred some of the best cows in the Rigel herd,” said Terence. “He was very correct with good width and top line, excellent temperament and good growth rate. We still AI to him.” Bruno died a month before he was 14 and he was buried on the farm when it was still permitted.
One of his progeny, Rigel Cordelia was the first Salers female to win a major interbreed championship, topping the Royal Lancashire Show in 1997 when she was shown with twin heifer calves at foot, Mopsa and Dorcas.
There are several female lines in the Rigel herd which have a tendency to produce twins, and one year there were 16 sets of twins, achieving a 103 per cent weaning rate for the herd. The overall rate for the herd for twins weaned is 1.6 calves per set of twins born.
The Pyes also bought the Salers Ltd semen marketing business which has 20 plus bulls on its books to suit both pedigree and commercial users.
Other herd sires used include Crocodile Dundee, out of the famous cow Sierra who won the Paris Show six times. She typified the qualities and maternal traits of the breed. Crocodile Dundee had been bought in France by actor Mel Gibson for his Salers herd in Australia but once again, the BSE export ban trapped him in the UK.
Another sire, Rigel Othello, a black polled bull was 15 when he died. As a result, 20 per cent of the herd is polled.
The herd is split into four breeding groups, focusing on developing different traits.
Bulls are purchased when required at the sale at the French bull testing station where about 70 are on offer each year.
The herd is run with minimal inputs, with cows and stock bulls fed home grown forage through the winter, with weaned bulls and heifers for sale being fed some concentrates formulated by local company I’Anson.