Now I’ve explained about different cattle breeds and their purposes, and what our cows are kept for, in my previous post (here if you missed it), I’m going to introduce you to the two new breeds on our block. First up, the Lincoln Red.
Why The Change?
Our ideal cows are calm and easy to work with; attentive mothers, but not dangerously protective (dad’s knees don’t really like scaling gates at speed anymore and I’m not exactly your average fit-as-a-fiddle farmer). They need to have plenty of milk, as that’s all their calves will be fed, and need to be ‘good-doers’ who are able to keep their weight on from just grass and forage while feeding their calves, rather than milking all the weight off themselves and needing higher quality feed to put it back on through winter.
When I realised, through my love of spreadsheets and recording everything under the sun, that the cows we were keeping didn’t quite tick every one of these qualities, I began looking for a breed that did.
I did a fair bit of homework online, researching breeds and seeing how they differed to one another, and finally, sent my dad to the Great Yorkshire Show with a shortlist of three maternal breeds to have a nosey at and decide which he liked the best.
He came home in full agreement with my mum and I that Lincoln Reds were the breed for us. We bought 8 heifers the following year and have continued to buy more from the same place ever since. 5 years in, we’ve only fallen more in love with these red teddy bears.
The Lincoln Red
The Lincoln Red is one of the oldest native British breeds- their ancestors were thought to have been brought over by the Vikings!
We affectionately call them the Red Elephants, which basically describes them perfectly. They’re big, sturdy cows with a leg in each corner, thick, deep crimson coats that can withstand any weather, oversized, fluffy ears, and friendly, docile natures. So friendly in fact, you can’t really do anything without their help, or their demand for back scratches.
They used to be a dual purpose breed in years gone by, kept for both meat and milk, so they have an abundance of rich, thick milk that gives calves an excellent start in life, and also have a meaty frame that seems to put weight on just by looking at a blade of grass, or a hedge, which they’re pretty partial to.
Their broad pelvises fire calves out with ease, and their no-nonsense approach to parenting means they easily handle everything themselves without a fuss, but if you do need to go give a calf some help, they’re quite happy for you to lend a hand.
They’re also a polled breed, meaning they naturally have no horns, which makes them even easier to manage as we don’t have to dehorn any of their calves; something we’d normally do, for safety reasons.
They do tend to be little too easy-going when it comes to motherhood though… Our calves operate on a ‘whichever udder’s closest’ system; three or four calves on one cow is a common sight! But they all swap calves equally, so everyone pulls their weight, and across the whole herd, the calves’ growth rates have increased with the addition of the Lincolns and their magic milk.
So, we’re now 5 years in to changing to all Lincoln Red cows. Like I mentioned in my last post, we don’t breed our cows pure, instead, we cross them to a terminal breed (meatier than a maternal breed) to get calves that have better shape and a higher value when it comes to being sold.
Enter, the Bazadaise
A few years ago, we knew our Limousin bull was beginning to come to the end of his working life and would need replacing soon. The Limousin, golden-orange in colour, is a muscley, meaty French breed. They’re probably best described as the six-pack adorned swimwear models of the cow world.
We’d used Limousin bulls on our cows for the past 25 years, but we wanted our next bull to be leaner than our current one, with more shape and muscle, in order to improve on the calves we were currently producing.
We had the option of just finding another Limousin that fit the bill, but we fancied a change to find something that would not only have the shape but also much finer bones, so there would be less bone waste on each carcass, and also easier calvings- something really important to us, as we try to interfere as little as possible at calving time.
I went to my happy place again- internet research- and came across a breed we’d never heard of before, a Bazadaise (pronounced Baz-a-day). After a bit more research, and chatting to other farmers with the breed, we took the plunge and bought our bull in 2017.
About The Breed
The Bazadaise is another meaty, muscley French breed, with the fine bone structure of a swimwear model but the muscle of a body builder (for anyone familiar with cattle breeds, think Blonde X Blue).
They only began being imported into England in 1989, so still aren’t very well known.
I find the breed pretty fascinating, especially the way the pure Bazadaise calves are born a pale golden colour, then begin turning varying shades of grey at around three months old and continue to get darker as they age. Some of the crossbred calves also change colour with age, although sometimes just their heads, making some look like they’ve been rubbing their forehead in a mound of soot.
The Bazadaise breed has excellent confirmation, with long, wide backs and double muscling, meaning their rump and inner and outer thigh are impressively round; but they only develop the muscle during the first two weeks of life, so are slim and gangly when born. Having very fine bones also helps with how easily the calves are born, and combined with their speedy growth and chunky bodies, means they produce a very high yield of well marbled beef.
Typically spending their summers grazing in the mountains in France, the breed has evolved to have hard feet and strong legs. Surprisingly agile, despite their size, they carry their muscle with ease, which was also a key quality for us.
One of the other traits, aside from ease of calving and good mobility, that eventually ended up as the deciding factor for Basil the Bazadaise arriving on our farm, was the liveliness of the calves at birth. We’ve never seen any other calves so quick onto their feet, with so much will to live. They’re straight up and searching for the cow’s udder, and are running at breath-taking speeds in no time. They tend to be so lively that we’ve had a few calf collisions when brakes have failed!
We’re really looking forwards to seeing what this breed can do across all our cows. So far, it’s clear to see the shape and growth rates of the calves is on another level to most of our Limousin calves. This year, every cow has gone to the Bazadaise bull, and all are in-calf, so seeing what calves are produced next year will be really interesting.
Changing breeds is always a gamble, but it certainly paid off with the Lincoln Reds, and hopefully, will with the French body builder too!