LIMOUSIN cattle are being scored for their tendency to produce easy-going offspring.
A new database giving an EBV (Estimated Breeding Value) for docility is the first of its kind in the UK but could lead to more like it.
The British Limousin Cattle Society has worked with Eblex subsidiary Signet, organiser of online information, and Egenes, an offshoot of the Scottish Agricultural College, to gather reports from beef farmers on their experiences with breeding from most of the top bulls supplying semen into the AI market, and with the offspring of their offspring.
Results can be found at www.egenes.co.uk/bascosearchbeef/
Alison Glasgow, a breeding specialist with Signet, said at the launch of the service this week: “Commercial calf producers unanimously identify docility as a main selection driver when purchasing decisions are being made.”
Docility is defined as response to being handled in a crush or similar restrained environment, like a race.
Eblex says the obvious benefits of calmer cows are human safety and animal welfare, but docility is also associated with increases in herd production, since there are strong correlations with the growth and carcase traits, as well as decreases in herd costs, through reductions in labour and management input.
Mrs Glasgow said use of a similar EBV in Australia had improved the proportion of animals that could be considered calm by 16 to 17 per cent over an 11-year period.
She said: “Production systems in the UK are increasingly relying on fewer staff, and this development is with an eye on how the demands of commercial producers are changing.”
Limousins were originally a French breed but have become central to the British beef business.
Great Yorkshire Show commentator Mike Keeble, a farmer, writer and broadcaster, based near Masham, was first to import some, in 1971, and he bred them until last year.
He acknowledges what the Limousin Society and Eblex have skated around in their comments –- the breed has a reputation for difficult animals.
He said: “It has been very much overplayed but it was originally a highland breed and it shares some of the characteristics of others, like the Aberdeen Angus and the Galloways, which have been bred to look after themselves without much human interference. I think what the Limousin Society and Eblex are doing is very sensible.”
Because of the risk of the occasional dangerous animal, Limousin breeders have always valued docility, but until now they have depended on personal observation and anecdote to help them choose the best animals to breed from.
Samuel Boon, manager of Signet, said they would be open to approaches to work with other breed societies on the same lines.
Skipton Auction Mart has announced two days this year for its annual Limousin fixture – Tuesday and Wednesday, May 10 and 11. Closing date for entries is Monday, April 25. Call Ted Ogden on 01756 792375.
How the scoring system works
the SCIENTIFIC approach to assessing docility is to score young animals in a crush on a five-grade table ... 1) Docile: “Settled, does not pull against headgate, exits calmly.” 2) Restless: “Slightly restless, stubborn during handling, some flicking of tail, exits promptly.” 3) Nervous: “Moderate amount of struggling, movement and tail flicking, exits briskly.” 4 Flighty: “Quivers and struggles violently, may bellow and froth, defecates and urinates.” 5: Aggressive: “Extreme agitation, exits crush frantically and may try to attack.”