An invitation issued by ABP to attend a farm walk on the holding of Billy O’Kane, Ballymena, Co. Antrim transformed Sean Hayden’s farming vision.
Based in Longford Pass, Co.Tipperary, the commercial suckler beef farmer who once worked with renowned showjumpers including Paul Darragh; Eddie Macken and Francis Connors was amazed by the performance of Antrim herd which consists of Stabilisers- a low-maintenance breed, established in the USA in the 1970’s.
“I had never heard of Stabiliser before prior to this encounter. The first thing that attracted me to the breed was their docility. My own herd was becoming wilder and were quite difficult to manage.” Sean Hayden explained to Catherina Cunnane of That’s Farming.
Making the Big Switch
Sean trialled the relatively new, polled, deep-bodied breed and later made the switch from popular continental-crossbreds to Stabilisers - a four-way-cross between Hereford; Angus; Simmental and Gelbvieh blood. Newborn Stabiliser calves (bulls and heifers) weigh approximately 35kgs, while cows hit in the region of 600kgs and mature stock bulls reach around the 800kgs mark and have potential to exceed this weight bracket.
To sow a fruitful seed, Sean travelled across the waters to the U.K to purchase the best available and acquired several high-end Stabiliser stock-bulls - animals that rate in the top 1% within the breed.
The Tipperary farmer strives to improve the herd as time progresses and new blood in the form of a stockbull from Scottish or British soil is introduced to the herd every two years. The herd does not utilise AI, due to the limited availability of Stabiliser semen in the genetic pool which poses the potential risk the of inbreeding.
On the female front, the majority of the Continental-cross cows have since left the farm, with a plan to run a 100% Stabiliser herd by 2019; 98 breeding females have calved down this year, with 120 breeding females earmarked to be bred this year.
“They are probably like a purebred animal but they have the hybrid vigour of four crosses. You can use them as a pedigree breed.”
“Calving isn’t an issue - the calving jack might be pulled out once, maybe twice a year maximum.” Sean outlined.
2018 marks the first year that the herd has sold pedigree females, due to a high replacement retention rate over the past number of years. The commercial bulls are all finished on the farm, while the best pedigree bulls are sold on for breeding purpose, with numerous repeat customers annually.
“Anyone that buys a bull returns to buy another which is fantastic to see, so it shows that they like what they have. There is great interest in the breed.”Sean said.
The strength of Sean’s herd is being recognised by Irish breeders and those overseas as he recently welcomed a delegation of French visitors involved in the bovine genetics field, who were immensely satisfied with the standard of the herd.
Terminal Traits & Feed Conversion Efficiency
In 2017, bulls aged 13.6-months were slaughtered and delivered an average cold carcass weight of 365kg - 30% of which were R grade and 70% graded Us; the majority of the bulls obtained a score of 3 in fat class.
“They are an ideal breed for finishing. The bulls consume about 8-10kgs of concentrates per day, but when I was finishing the bigger Continental-cross bulls, they took in about 12kg of concentrates daily.” Sean highlighted.
“I have noticed that the Stabilisers don’t consume as much feed, so I can easily manage more stock. I have found that a bale of silage will do 30 Stabiliser cows, whereas, a bale of silage used to feed twenty Continental-cross cows.” Sean explained.
Sean estimates that the Stabiliser is breed is approximately 33% more feed efficient than the continental breeds and drew attention to the emphasis that American breeders place on feed efficiency when it comes to the genetic selection and overall evaluation.
“Most farmers still do not know what a Stabiliser animal is so they are still quite new, but I see a good future for them because they are a suitable suckler breed. They are mainly a maternal breed, but they have strong terminal traits too.”
Looking forward to the future, Sean will continue to run a multiplier herd with a purpose to breed pedigree stock for commercial farmers.
The Stabiliser breeder, making waves in Tipperary is working towards building a herd of 120 pedigree breeding females and a percentage of the progeny from the best cow families will be retained for breeding in order to push the farm to greater heights.
Evaluating the overall progress of the breed, Sean believes that Stabilisers have untapped potential when it comes to the Irish suckler sector and feels that they are suitable for part-time farmers or those who have no assistance but wish to run a large volume of cattle.
“The docility of the breed is one of the most favourable traits. A number of farmers who are shoving on in years have contacted me looking for stock; these people want to have quieter stock in order to continue farming.” Sean concluded.If you are a sheep and/or cattle breeder and you want to share your story, get in touch - email email@example.com and you may just be featured on That’s Farming next week.