In a recent straw poll, the top two reasons for using a Devon bull (or semen) on dairy females were:
Sale of Devon cross calves and/or stirks in live markets were felt to be competitive with AA crosses.
Across the board, best margins were achieved where the Devon crosses could be retained till 15-18 months and sold either as stores to finishing units, or in some heifer cases: into commercial suckler herds as crossbred replacements.
To maximise return, some dairy units had developed strong relationships with both types of outlet – to secure ongoing direct private sales. In one such system, stores for finishing were being sold at 2 years in the region of 450kg; and the heifers as crossbred replacements were sold at 15-18 months at around 350kg.
Overriding feedback from commercial suckler herds, when asked about their reasons for using a Devon sire, again cited the Devon’s ability to throw live calves (the result of easy calving) and docility in progeny as leading attributes of the breed.
Other prominent reasons for using the Devon as a terminal sire were:
This second point was really highlighted amongst farmers that had secured the most advantageous outlets for primestock.
Docile temperament (easy handling) along with both growth and finish off grass with minimal inputs were top points with crossbred finishers.
One finisher bought in 7 month old Devon crosses out of a Holstein herd, and fed 1½kg/hd/day cake to attain an average kill age of 22 months. Deadweights averaged 315-320kg for steers and 285+kg for heifers; all sold into mainstream outlets. Some heifers finished nearer 18 months and although lighter, had the correct finish level younger; therefore giving a swifter turnaround which was valued for increased efficiency and cashflow while still making a profit.
Purebred finishing in another system was purely grass based and guided by butcher’s spec for his specialist outlets. 10+p/kg over base price premium is attained, with steers averaging 310-320kg deadweight at around 26 months and heifers averaging 280-290kg at around 24 months. Steers had once been trialled finishing out of sheds at 24 months (on forage) slightly lighter, but butcher-buyer feedback stopped this due to the lack of maturity in the meat and the reflection in the carcass: not having the final grass finish. This stock had a ‘good start origin’ from its suckler source – as calves they’d had access to creep and been fed ½kg/hd/day over the weaning period and for a few weeks at turnout as yearlings.
The breed – crossed or purebred – is renowned for being versatile and performing in a range of systems. Sourcing the right Devon – that suits your particular system – ensures targets are achievable.