ONE OF THE STARS IN THE cattle firmament right now is the Salers breed and that suits Terence Pye who farms with his wife Jane at Leven Fields, Middleton on Leven, near Yarm. Terence is Chairman of the Salers Cattle Society, a role he took up in November 2016, and his Rigel herd is aptly named for the continuing rise in popularity of the breed as Rigel is a star in the Orion constellation.
‘The breed really has taken hold in the last five years even though we’ve had them since 1991 and they’ve been in the UK since 1986,’ says Terence. ‘The data from BCMS has been allowing us to see the growth curve gradually ramping up but in 2016 the breed grew by a huge 10 per cent, making it the fastest growing in the UK.
There are now around 30,000 pure and crossbred Salers breeding cows and we are the ninth largest breed for this in the country.’ ‘I think it is the pressures on farming that are forcing everyone to be more careful about cost and making the best of what they have. The message about Salers has now reached that point where people either want to know more or have started to keep them. We’re receiving recommendations all the time as the commercial realities are coming to the fore. Cattle men and women now understand what they can do for them.’ ‘Around half of the customers who come to us are looking for one of the main attributes of the Salers – easy calving. The pelvic opening can be twice as large as some other perhaps better-known breeds and that is making a huge difference.
We’ve found that the very unique set of traits the British cattle men and women need are encompassed in the Salers.’ ‘That includes dairy farmers. About a quarter to one-third of the bulls we sell are bought to go into dairy herds. In commercial suckler herds, farmers get sick of having to pull calves out, so to have cows that can pop calves out without assistance is not just easier, it’s also less time consuming. We hardly ever see our cows and heifers calve. We also weigh every calf and ours are in the mid-30 kgs range. I went out a 7am this morning and there was nothing happening. A short while later I went again and one had calved, while another calved in the time I’d checked on the first one. They fly out of them.’ Terence was raised in the London suburb of Caterham near Croydon and came north due to his career with ICI. It was through his brother Malcolm that Terence found his love of cattle. ‘Malcolm was interested in farming and had a small holding in Nottinghamshire where he had store beasts on 12 acres. Jane and I would look after the place and the cattle when he and his wife Gillian went on holiday.’ ‘We then had the idea of setting up in business together and we did just that between Jane, myself, Malcolm and Gillian. Both couples sold our respective homes and bought 90 acres here at Leven Fields plus the farm buildings in 1991. We couldn’t afford the farmhouse in the village. Over the years we built up the concern while Malcolm and I had our regular day jobs. Jane and Gillian looked after the farm with Jim Ridley. Jim’s a real proper Yorkshire character and had worked for the farmer who had this place before us.’ ‘We were fortunate that some land came up adjacent that took the acreage to the 208 it is today. It’s all down to grass except around 30 acres of woodland and we have a mile and a half of river frontage on the River Leven. We acquired arable land in addition, but sold it when Malcolm and Gillian left the partnership and moved to Scotland where Malcolm had set up an agri business.
Terence and Jane’s passion has always been for cattle. ‘Our interest is now wholly cattle. We started with Salers in November 1990 through a crossbred cow and embryo, plus a heifer. We’ve built the herd up from there. We currently have 55 cows of which three are Charolais with the rest Salers. Bulls are sold at between 20 months to 3 years old and heifers at around 15-18 months. We get the heifers in-calf to our Salers bulls and then sell them as we want the farmer to be able to see what we mean about easy calving. With more than half our customers buying Salers for the first time we want everything to be right.’
Commercial herds are where much of Terence and Jane’s production is bound. ‘The pedigree market is tiny in comparison to the commercial beef sector. If we sell to a pedigree buyer that’s nice but its suckler herds and dairy farmers that are our main areas direct from the farm. We sell just over one-third of our bulls through Salers Society sales throughout the UK. ‘We’re presently running four pedigree Salers bulls and also use AI. Our bulls live long and are highly productive. We try to use our own homebred bulls and since 2002 we have bought just four French bulls. Bruno, our foundation bull, was just under 14 years old when he finished; Crocodile Dundee was just under 15; and Othello was 14. Byron is current our leading stock bull aged 7.’ ‘In order to bring fresh blood we bought Lascaux from France, but we are committed to making continued progress with our own bulls and we’re producing what we feel are as good as any including Rigel Drambuie Poll, a black bull we have retained as a junior herd sire, and who is an out-and-out commercial farmers’ bull giving lots of beef while also good female traits.’
The increase in Salers popularity shown from data collated by BCMS puts the breed as the 10th largest beef breed, using a Salers bull; and the 9th largest of the breeding cows registrations. Terence believes managing the on-going success will be key to the breed’s future. ‘At the moment, with so many new members coming in, we need to make sure they know enough to select for the breeds core strengths. The Salers has caught on right now and obviously we’re very happy that others have realised or are realising what we have known for many years. It’s vital that we maintain the standards that have been set and one of those ways is to ensure our members understand and value low to moderate birth weight.’ ‘We’ve gained a healthy reputation for exceptional calving ease. We could lose it if we as breeders do not remain vigilant to what has got us this far. The Society has implemented performance recording using BREEDPLAN, which provides EBVs so Salers bulls can be selected for low to moderate birth rates. My advice would be don’t get distracted by high growth rates because that can lead to high birth weights which can inevitably lead to calving problems. We need to play to our strengths.’ ‘Last year we achieved 100 per cent unassisted births across our entire Salers herd and there were four sets of twins too.’
And if you’ve not yet seen reference to Salers beef on a UK menu you should try Paris. ‘It’s marketed as high end, gourmet beef in Paris under the name Label Rouge. If you’re over there and you see a little red cow’s head on the menu that’s Salers beef. It has great marbling and is exceptionally tasty.’
Terence and Jane have also worked hard at developing polled genetics within their herd over the past 20 years. ‘It’s another important part of our business as a premium is commanded on polled cattle.’
Jane and Terence have two daughters – Emma and Helen. Emma assists on the farm with son-in-law Scott. The herd prefix Rigel came from Terence’s father’s business. ‘He had a company called Rigel Electronics. Who would have known that it would come to be associated with a rising star breed in the cattle world! We’re all making every effort to keep it moving upwards.’