British Cattle Breeders Club's annual event

Joanne Pugh reports from the British Cattle Breeders Club’s annual event held in Telford, Shropshire.

PURPOSELY trying to spark controversy, British Cattle Breeders Club committee member Mike Coffey told delegates 'the Holstein cow has gone from being the saviour of the dairy industry to the saviour of the beef industry'.

His observation followed a three-fold presentation celebrating the Holstein bull calf's ability to be reared to meet consumer demands for beef.

A farmer had outlined how he was making a profit rearing Holstein bulls with Blade Farming, while Blade and Tesco explained why such animals made for a consistent and tasty product.

A subsequent remark from the audience about the three speakers ignoring the role of the suckler cow generated heart-felt applause from the beef breeders - but they were greeted with bad news as well as good.

The good news, according to Alice Pattinson, an agriculture manager with Tesco, was there was always a role for suckler cows. “They're our 'finest' range.”

The bad news was consumers had no idea what a suckler cow was and she could not give a presentation about integration in a supply chain that included suckler producers because no such integration existed.

Retailers only had links with finishers, and even those were not always in place. Dairy beef systems were 'far more integrated', she said, hence continued communication and successful relationships between Tesco, Blade and Blade's farmers.


Suckler cows & calves
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Consistency


Richard Phelps, managing director of Blade, said the key driver behind the creation of his business was producing consistency.

While more traditional beef animals did fit his 'business model', black and white calves drew all the attention because there was an abundance of them and farmers could take them on and turn out large batches of finished cattle to meet a consistent specification.

That was the attraction of Blade to Tesco, said Miss Pattinson, who spoke extensively on consumers' demand for tenderness and flavour each and every time they purchased beef.

She said consistency had always been important, but was increasingly so in the current economic climate.

The Tesco 'value' range was now outselling the 'finest' range and Miss Pattinson suggested the lack of repeat buyers for finest products was because customers were not returning after a bad experience.

Consistency was the way to drive beef sales, which was good for retailers and farmers.

Dorset beef and sheep farmer John Hoskin, from Dorchester, said in return for supplying the supermarket with the product it wanted, he benefited from a clear communication channel (something he takes full advantage of) and better links to ongoing research and development projects.

These included, for example, a venture between Blade and Genus to identify Holstein sires that were popular with dairy farmers, but also throwing bull calves with good beefing ability.

Around seven bulls had been identified and once that information went public Mr Hoskin said he would be asking to get those calves on his farm.

He said: “While partnerships may not be for everyone, they can and do work. And for them to work it has to be a bit like a marriage - a bit of give and take but, above all, you have to be passionate.”

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