THE FAST growth rates of Charolais-sired cattle is a trait that is widely publicised and it’s the main reason for the breed being top choice for north Yorkshire-based Mark and Jane Hayhurst, who run both pedigree and commercial cattle at Great Carr, Malton.

The couple moved to the 290-acre unit eight years ago – three years after they had founded their Whitecliffe herd, with the purchase of females from herds including Balmyle, Keepers, Hopewell and Mowbraypark.

“My parents had a small Charolais herd, so we originally went for them because it was a breed that we both liked and from experience, we knew they had good temperaments to work with,” explained Jane.

“Now though, we realise that no other breed could suit our purpose like the Charolais. Many of the abattoirs around here will only take fat bulls at under 16-months of age, and for maximum weight for age, nothing beats the Charolais. Cattle breeding has never been so important, and with this 16-month rule, we couldn’t do it with any other breed,” she added.

Selective buying of the foundation females by Mark and Jane proved successful, as many of them have gone on to breed quality bulls and heifers, including the herd’s top price at auction, 6000gns for a son of one of the Balmyle heifers. Another foundation cow, Linkins Olivia, which had a calving index of +16.5, bred well for the herd and produced the Dingle Hofmeister son, Whitecliffe Volvo, which was kept for use at home.

“Volvo has been great for us, both in the commercial and pedigree side. He was a really easy calving bull, scoring +14, with a Terminal Sire Index of +46 and a Self Replacing Index of +50. Three of our bulls for the May sale are by him,” said Jane, who feels figures are a useful tool when selecting which bulls to use on certain females.

“We focus on calving ease, growth rates and muscle depth, and so far, we’ve found that the results have matched the figures. If a bull scores high for calving ease, then it’ll be easy calving, in our experience. And with the Charolais, even if a calf is small at birth, it soon catches up on growth.

“My father always used to say, ‘better with a small live calf than a big dead one’ and I’d second that,” said Jane.

The couple mainly work with AI on the herd, but they use some home-bred bulls, and have only ever bought one stock bull, Thrunton Owent, a Blelack Jaguar son, in 2000. Another boasting great figures, with a calving index of +23.8, a TSI of +34 and an SRI of +30, he was reserve intermediate champion at Carlisle, and bred well with the Whitecliffe foundation females.

AI bulls are selected mainly by their figures and some of those used have included Dingle Hofmeister, Mowbraypark Paramount, Balmyle Vendetta, Allanfauld Vagabond, Goldies Unbeatable, Derryharney Outstanding and Gretnahouse Noel.

“We feel you can achieve both good figures and good growth rates, and we’re particularly selective with which bulls we use on which females, in order to accomplish this. To us, the ideal bull is one that will produce a great calf when used on both pure and cross cows,” said Jane.

Mark has recently passed his AI course and now uses this method on the 35-cow commercial herd, as well as the pedigree cows, which also number 35. The suckler herd is made up of Limousin and Blonde crosses, which were bought along with the farm, and home-bred Charolais cross females.

“We’ve been a closed herd since 2004, and we’re in the Biobest Herdcare health scheme, so we breed all our own replacement heifers, while the bull calves are fattened on home-grown cereals and mostly go direct to slaughter.

“We aim to finish them at 12-14-months-old, killing out at 420-440kg deadweight. A recent batch, all Whitecliffe Volvo sons, graded U+ and sold to a top of £1200, for a 12-month-old which killed out at 421kg d/w,” said Jane.

Aiming to be as self-sufficient as possible, the Hayhursts cut down feed costs by growing 120 acres of their own cereals, including wheat, barley, oats and beans, and make silage and haylage. With just the two of them the majority of the time (Jane’s two cousins and her father help out at certain times), they are kept busy, and consequently, have no time to show the cattle, except at pre-sale shows.

The majority of Whitecliffe bulls are sold at the Carlisle sales, but they also venture to the Perth sale (now at Stirling). Next month’s line-up for Carlisle on May 7 and 8, includes the Volvo sons Whitecliffe Elvis, Emanuel and Edmund, all sporting high EBVs, and the Mowbraypark Paramount-sired Whitecliffe Edward. There’s also a promising looking younger crop of bulls, set for the autumn sales later in the year.

“Our aim is to breed a bull with good conformation, that’s good on its legs, with good growth rates and temperament. Calving ease is really important, but we must retain good conformation, and I think you can get both with the Charolais,” said Jane.

“They are a versatile breed and nothing puts growth on like them, so they suit our system better than any other breed could. To produce good store cattle, you’ve got to use a good bull, and I think a lot of commercial breeders are realising that now,” she added.