1. What is the breed mix of the Stabiliser?
The Stabiliser was first produced by the USDA Meat Animal Research Centre as part of an experiment looking at composite breeding techniques. It turned out to be the best of three composites they created and trialled. When they started it was a 4 way cross between Hereford, Red Angus, Simmental and Gelbvieh with an equal share of 25% of each breed.
However the principle of a composite is the bringing together of breeds with complimentary traits that are the best in their breed, capitalising on heterosis and re-making the crosses regularly to maintain heterosis. And because the genetic merit of all breeds change relative to each other overtime what has happened is the Hereford component was not pulling its weight so it has been dropped. Other breed populations are being sampled to see if they can strengthen the modern Stabiliser. If they can they will be included.
SCC has an open nucleus approach which means genetics from any breed will be considered if it can improve our ability to deliver on the target traits.
2. How did the Stabiliser get its name?
The Stabilizer was christened in the USA by the Leachman Cattle Company. They inherited the concept from the MARC where it was called MARC II composite. The Leachman family decided that the approach gave a “Stable” outcome to crossbreeding and so called it the Stabilizer. In the UK we have an “s” rather than a “z” to differentiate ourselves.
3. What colour are Stabilisers?
Initially Stabiliser cattle were all red coated. This was to differentiate from the Black Angus in America. In recent years Black Angus has been introduced to the scheme as well as black Simmental and Gelbveih so currently the breed is a mixture of red and black. The reason for the change was very simple; it was the pursuit of the most profitable genetics to make a Stabiliser, and this meant that animals in the Black Angus breed in the USA could not be ignored.
As coat colour does not affect profitability there is no point in worrying about it!
4. How can Stabiliser be considered pedigree?
The Stabiliser Cattle Company is driving a new approach to breeding and as such doesn’t have the vocabulary to describe easily what we are doing using traditional terms. The definition of pedigree means simply “knowing the parentage of the animals you have”, so in that sense we are very much a pedigree organisation because knowing the lineage is crucial to the genetic performance evaluation.
Yes, breeds are mixed but understanding the traits each breed and individual brings to make a profitable animal is the same process as operates in traditional breeds. SCC has just not limited ourselves to the use of one breed.
SCC is officially recognised as a Pedigree Breed Society by the European Commission because of the records we keep and why we keep them.
5. What is BIG, the Beef Improvement Group?
BIG is the umbrella company owned by 3 Yorkshire farming companies that own the rights to breed and market Stabiliser cattle in Europe. The owners are JSR Farming, Birdsall Estates Co Ltd and R&J Farms. They came together in 1996 with the aim of developing a profitable suckler cow type and after a period of research settled on the Stabiliser and the Stabiliser Cattle Company was born.
6. How is the breed organised?
Stabilisers in Europe are controlled by the Beef Improvement Group. The office team manage the marketing and promotion of the breed and handle all sales of breeding stock.
reeding stock are generated by 90 cooperating breeders called Multipliers who between them own over 9,000 cows all of which are performance recorded. The importation of new blood lines and the direction of genetic progress are set by the SCC.
7. How many Stabiliser cows are there in the UK?
At the moment (2015) there are just over 9,000 performance recorded cows owned by 90 Multiplier herds. Counting pure and cross-breds there are about 35,000 Stabiliser cows in use in the UK and a further small, but growing, population in Ireland.
BCMS records show the Stabiliser to be the fastest growing breed over the last 5 year with a 69.4% increase.
Current rate of growth is around 10% additional breeding females per year.
8. Why should I consider Stabiliser Cattle?
Very simply Stabiliser cows will give you the most profitable dam line in the UK. So if you want to make money from suckled beef production you need to get the most efficient cow possible. The combination of traits from different breeds and the contribution of heterosis mean that the Stabiliser is the most efficient cow on the market.
The SCC continues to improve the animals by genetic selection. The SCC were key players in the introduction of maternal; n=beef traits to the evaluation system in the UK. The SCC continues the development with the introduction of new EBVs like Net feed Efficiency which will reduce the cost of beef production further.
Beef is a commodity market and as such farmers are price takers so the opportunities to improve margins are largely about improving farm efficiency. Having said that the price of finished animals is also very important and worth negotiating on but it’s not one or the other, it’s both.
9. How do I buy breeding stock?
Breeding stock is all sold by private sale. This avoids the unnecessary and stressful travelling that is associated with auction markets. It also means that breeding stock is prepared ready for work rather than “show condition”. Multipliers offer bulls, bulling heifers, in-calf heifers and occasionally cows with calves at foot for sale and can be approached by customers for breeding stock or work through the Office to see what is available. All sales administration is handled by the office with payment completed before delivery.
The sales are all handled through the SCC office. This means that the commission on each sale can be calculated and quality control measures are adhered to.
10. What is the pricing system?
The pricing system is based around the genetic merit of the animals. This is established by the evaluation system in terms of EBVs and Breeding indexes. The Multipliers collectively agree the pricing schedule each year.
Bulling heifers are priced based on their purity with full pedigree animals valued highest and a different price for first cross (F1), second cross (F2 75% Stabiliser), third cross (F3 87.5% Stabiliser) and fourth cross (F4 93.75% stabiliser – considered as purebred).
11. What traits are you interested in improving in the Stabiliser?
The Stabiliser was first imported to the UK to fill the niche created by inefficient dairy cross beef cows with a more profitable suckler dam. The key traits are those which provide profitable suckler production which means a moderate sized cow with excellent maternal qualities for fertility and calving ease AND traits for a finishing animal that meets market specifications and can grow quickly.
SCC aims to keep cow mature size at 650 kg at BCS 3. Bigger is not better, it reduces output per hectare and increases the risk of missing target carcase specification with the progeny.
Multipliers use the Signet recording traits and are also working on a Net Feed Efficiency EBV to reduce the feed costs associated with suckler beef production.
12. What are you doing with Net feed Efficiency?
We have established an 80 place feed evaluation unit in East Yorkshire which can assess three batches of cattle per year. The unit evaluate young bulls from promising family lines to identify the ones with the best NFE. This means we are looking for animals that eat less but grow at the same rate. The trait will help reduce the maintenance costs associated with suckler cows as well as the feed costs for finishers. When enough data has been collected we will be able to calculate an EBV for NFE and select better performing animals to be the parents of the next generation.
The trait is highly heritable (about 0.35) which means we will be able to make quick progress once we have the EBV.
13. What are the carcase qualities like in Stabilisers?
Thanks to our relationship with Morrisons we get some very good feedback on carcase qualities from the slaughter generation. Yearling bulls (max age 14 months) give 30% U and 70% R at an average of 355kg carcase weight. Steers (18 to 22 months old) give 3%U, 70% R and 27% O+ at 330kg carcase weight.
14. What is the eating quality of beef like form Stabilisers?
We have done some eating quality work which shows that the tenderness of the beef produced by these animals is at a level which would be classified as tender or very tender by the USDA system. This combined with a largely forage based diets means that flavour is also excellent. Because the genetics have been developed in the USA where cattle are graded on marbling the meat tends to be highly marbled which improves juiciness and flavour compared to the leaner beef often produce in the UK.
15. What is the relationship with Morrisons/ Woodheads?
BIG have negotiated an arrangement with Morrisons/ Woodheads for Stabiliser bred cattle that realises a premium for meeting a tight target specification. The yearling beef scheme takes young bulls from 12 to 14 months old with target weight specification of 320-370kg carcase weight at fat class 4L. Steers and heifers are accepted up to 24 months old at fat class 4L and 4H in the same weight range.
We also cooperate with a specialist finisher with capacity for 700 head to improve the consistency of finishing for suckler herds that don’t have the resources to finish their own animals. The breeder retains ownership and pays the specialist finisher for feed and management. The economy of scale and finishing expertise means that the breeder makes a better margin than retaining the cattle themselves.
In 2015 we had 3,000 head through this partnership and it is set to grow further.
16. What can I expect from Stabiliser bulling heifers?
Stabiliser bulling heifers are bred to calve at 2 years old. They are only sold if they reach the minimum bulling weight of 400 kg at 14 months. Growth rate is 0.7 kg per day so you can add or subtract 20kkg for every month older or younger.
Stabiliser heifers are all vet checked before sale to make sure they are not freemartins and not pregnant. Heifer management advice is given with each sale covering growth rates, body condition score and post calving management.
The SCC is aims to cap mature cow weight at 650kg BCS3. So bigger is not always better. Targeting specific weights for age is more important than having the biggest.
17. What can I expect from a Stabiliser bull?
Stabiliser bulls are sold as yearlings and are capable of working at 15 months old. The bulls are all vet checked and semen tested before sale. Bulls are sold with a management advice sheet that points out they need to be managed carefully as they continue to grow towards their mature weight as 3-year-olds.
In the first mating season young bulls will handle 30 cows but not more. They should be fed to continue growing at about 0.8kg a day until they reach a mature weight which is likely to be between 900 and 1200 kg depending in the individual and the BCS.
Stabiliser bulls will continue to work for many years if kept in good health and will handle mating groups of 40-45 cows.
As a standard we do recommend semen testing each year.
18. What is the inheritance of horns and scurs?
Inheritance of Polledness, Horns and Scurs
Horns and scurs are controlled by different genes so even in a polled breed you can still get scurs. You need to think of scurs separately from horns, like you would coat colour and horns, because the inheritance of horns and scurs are entirely separate from each other. If an animal has horns it will hide the scur status because there will be horns growing where a scur might, or might not be!
Horns or polled
Being polled or having horns is controlled by one pair of genes. The polled gene (shown in short hand with a capital P) is dominant to the horned gene (shown in shorthand with a lowercase p).
If an animal has two polled genes it would be noted as a PP. This is also called homozygous polled because the two genes, one from each parent, are the same. If an animal has one polled and one horned gene it would be noted as Pp and it will be polled because the polled gene is dominant to horns. The Pp animal is heterozygous polled because the two genes, one from each parent are different. The only time an animal will be horned is when it has two recessive horned genes, noted as pp and called homozygous horned.
When a heterozygous polled (Pp) animal is a parent it could pass on either the polled or horned gene to its’ offspring. Table 1 shows the phenotype (expression) of polledness or horns in offspring from parents of different polled/ horned genotype matings.
Table 1 Possible offspring from mating various combinations polled/ horned parents
Table 1 Possible offspring from mating various combinations polled/ horned parents
|All offspring PP
|½ PP and ½ Pp
|½ PP and ½ Pp
|¼PP, ¼ pp, 1/2 Pp
25% horned, 75% polled
|½ Pp and ½ pp
50% horned,50% polled
|½ Pp and ½ pp
50% horned,50% polled
Scurs are incompletely developed horns which are not attached to the skull. Not all horned cattle carry the gene for scurs and not all polled cattle lack the scur gene.
The way the gene for scurs is expressed depends on the sex of the animal. In bull calves the scur gene is dominant. So, if only one of the two genes is for scurs the bull will develop scurs. This makes it simple to identify bulls that carry the scur gene.
In females the scur gene is recessive. This means that for the cow to be scurred she must have both copies of the genes for scurs. If the cow has only one scur gene she will not have scurs herself but there is a 50 percent chance of passing the scur gene on to her offspring.
The smooth (nor scurred) polled cow may have the recessive scur gene which makes it much harder to get rid of without genetic testing.
Table 2 shows the scurred inheritance patterns. The presence of the scur gene is indicated by Sc and the absence by Sn.
Table 2. Scurred phenotype assuming all animals are homozygous polled
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