Bob And Liz Priest explained to the 25 visitors that they run an organic beef and sheep enterprise over 4 sites in North Devon. They have 450 acres of marginal ground, on which they have 60 (mainly Stabiliser) cows running with two Stabiliser bulls. They bought their first Stabiliser bull in 2012 from Jono Cole, Trebartha Maxim and in the following year bought 6 heifers. The bull team this year is another Trebartha bull Pimms and Walcot Ronnie from Shropshire.
The long term aim is to grade-up the whole herd to pure Stabiliser and market surplus heifers as breeding stock. Males calves are reared as steers with aim of getting the most growth possible from grass.
“Since starting with the Stabilisers we have been very pleased with them”, Bob says “they are doing what it says on the tin, we particularly like the high health status which all Stabiliser breeders follow, as this ensures we are not ‘buying in’ any unwanted disease issues, which unfortunately has happened to us in the past with other breeds. We are in a health scheme and are level 1 for Johnes and BVD.
“This year I have not needed to assist any cows at calving which is very pleasing.”
A new project this year is the adoption of a paddock grazing system for the steers and growing heifers. Bob explained how it works, “Each group of cattle has 8 paddocks available and ideally they will graze the paddock clean in 3 days and move on to the next paddock. By the time they get back to the same paddock – 21 days after they left it – the grass should be at the optimum 3 leaf stage which maximises DM production and nutritional value.”
“Obviously weather plays a part and sometimes the grass gets to far ahead so we have to skip a paddock and cut it. Or on the other hand the we might have a dry spell and need to bring in an extra paddock. We expect to produce and utilise 20% more grass in this system compared to set stocking.”
“The system needs an investment in electric fencing and mobile water (see picture), and needs labour, but we think the effort is going to be worth it. We are working with AHDB to monitor our the grazing performance.”