A Longhorn Heritage Beef project has been launched by Newcastle University Farms and award-winning agricultural company Buitelaar, at Cockle Park Research Farm, Morpeth, Northumberland.

In a bid to improve the value of beef from the dairy herd, the ongoing project involves Newcastle University’s Nafferton Farm unit of 300 Holstein Friesians being inseminated to traditional Longhorn bulls, thereby increasing the value of dairy-bred bull calves.

While Buitelaar continue to take other breeds of bull calves, the scheme has been extended to produce a traditional heritage beef calf, providing ease of calving; increased animal health and welfare and increased growth-rates. The Newcastle University project commenced early September with the first calves due late August.

Three Longhorn bulls have also been purchased by the university from Charlie Sutcliffe from Telford Longhorns, Lincolnshire. After the second insemination period, any repeat breeding animals will be served by natural service. Insemination’s at Nafferton Farm will be split, resulting in autumn and spring-calving patterns according to university farms manager Gareth Hancock.

“We are the only University Farm in the UK to start this project and extremely excited about this ground-breaking initiative. We are linking decisions directly to the food-chain and developing a breeding system based on what the market wants and one that suits our business. As part of the project, Genus will be maintaining meticulous records on calving-ease; viability and breeding.

“We expect to produce calves that are healthy and well-grown and will leave Nafferton Farm between two and six weeks old, reducing the pressures on labour requirements and housing. Another important benefit is students will receive excellent training in calf-rearing from Buitelaar. We also have our own resident vets, Scott Mitchell, providing expertise as part of the project,” he said.

The Longhorn is considered to the oldest English beef breed and is an ideal choice for the project commented Buitelaar business development manager, Hugh Pocock. He said: “There is increasing demand for traditional heritage beef and we are developing an exciting market to fulfil consumer demand. Suppliers and consumers are requesting high quality beef as well as food provenance and traceability.

“Buitelaar provide complete traceability and all calves leave our customer dairy units to be reared through the Buitelaar supplier system. Our pricing system is transparent with dairy farmers currently receiving a £32 bonus above the AHDB market price for Holstein Friesian calves.

“The Heritage Beef project provides tremendous opportunities to create a new beef market and provide farmers with greater certainty as an end product. The Longhorn cross Holstein Friesian animals are expected to be finished on a grass system at 16-18 months and weigh between 500kg-550kg. There is increasing demand for British heritage beef from overseas as well as, Asian markets and as the project develops, Buitelaar aim to increase supply.”

The current crop of dairy herd replacements based at Cockle Park will be bred to sexed Holstein Friesian semen in order to provide sufficient animals to maintain 250-300 milking cows at Nafferton.

Any repeat breeders after two insemination’s of sexed-semen in the group will be covered by natural service from resident Longhorn bulls. The Nafferton milking herd is moving to a more grass-based grazing system aligned to lower-inputs and lower outputs. However, genetically superior animals and performance related animals at Nafferton will continue to be identified and bred to sexed Holstein Friesian bulls.