Dairy ideas lead to beef results

Barry Gledhill has made the transition from dairy to breeding Simmental weaner bulls. Russell Priest visited Barry to learn more about his dedication to good genetics and feeding.

In Livestock16 Minutes

Barry Gledhill has made the transition from dairy to breeding Simmental weaner bulls. Russell Priest visited Barry to learn more about his dedication to good genetics and feeding.

Ex dairy farmer 71-year-old Barry Gledhill from Linton, Manawatu has successfully transitioned from producing top Friesian genetics to selling market-topping beef weaners.

Weighing in at an impressive 367kg average Barry’s top pen of Simmental and Simmental cross weaner bulls made $1225 ($3.34/kg) at Feilding’s first weaner fair of 2021 while his second pen averaging 326kg sold at $1090 ($3.34/kg also). While his top pen was not quite the heaviest pen at the sale, being pipped by a pen of five mixed-breed bulls at 374kg they were the standouts on price.

Barry went on to complete an extremely successful sale selling 44 weaner bulls at an average of a little over $1068/head.

These results are not one-offs as Barry has been selling top weaners at Feilding for a number of years having moved from dairy to beef farming some 17 years ago. In doing so he transferred many of his skills honed during a long career milking cows and breeding Friesian bulls for LIC and Ambreed to producing beef weaners.

It’s no coincidence therefore that Barry’s outstanding weaners are the result of combining top genetics with good feeding, both essential ingredients in producing fast-growing cattle.

At an average age of 214 days and an average birthweight of 40kg Barry’s top pen of bulls averaged an impressive 1.53kg of growth a day from birth to sale.

Farming in the blood

Leaving school at the age of 15, Barry always knew he wanted to be a farmer.

“I just knew I was going to be a farmer but had to wait until I got into the fifth form,” Barry said.

Getting into the first 15 rugby team at Manawatu College slightly delayed his departure. However, as soon as the cows started calving on his father’s Oroua Downs dairy farm he moved onto the next phase of his life, leaving school and working for his father for the next 12 years.

When he turned 21, Barry’s father bought a dairy runoff in Barry’s name which represented the start of his farming career on his own account. This was the first of a number of farms Barry bought and sold during his dairying career which included helping his three sons on to farms.

In 2003 oldest son Mark bought one of Barry’s last dairy farms at Tokomaru, not far from where he now farms, along with his successful pedigree Friesian herd. This year Mark followed in his father’s footsteps by producing a top CRV Ambreed bull (Hillbrae Gaunt Chucky) from the same maternal line as Barry bred his top bull (Hillbrae HS Cinnamon) eight generations earlier.

His second son Daniel farms 100 breeding cows (mostly Simmentals) on a block at Kimbolton in the Northern Manawatu while his youngest son Leyton farms an adjoining block bought two years ago on Barry’s southern boundary running a pedigree Speckle Park stud, trading cattle and contract rearing calves for Pamu.

From the age of 17 for a period of 10 years Barry worked as an artificial insemination (AI) technician for LIC and continued this for another 15 years when he was sharemilking with his son Mark at Tokomaru.

It was in 1971 when Simmental semen first became available in NZ that Barry decided to inseminate some of his cull Friesian cows with semen from this new breed. His intention was to produce a herd of milking Simmentals however this venture was not successful but it was the growth rate of the progeny that left a lasting impression.

Farm facts

  • Farm 140ha at the foothills of the Tararua Ranges.
  • 17km south-west of Palmerston North.
  • Simmental cattle breeding
  • Sells outstanding weaner bulls at Feilding weaner fair.
  • An ex pedigree Friesian dairy farmer.

When Barry retired from dairy farming, he began buying small numbers of various grades of Simmental from half-breds to purebreds to stock his 140ha farm. The more he worked with the breed the more impressed he became.
Today, most of his 100 cows, 55 R2 in-calf heifers and 50 R1 heifers are purebreds and he is presently in the process of registering some of them with the Simmental Cattle Breeders Society of NZ. While he has been herd building there has been little scope for culling however now that surplus females are being generated he is able to pass them onto his son at Kimbolton.

Coming from a dairy background and having bred a genetically high BI (breeding index) pedigree Friesian herd with high production suggests Barry is not only an avid fan of genetics but also knows how to get the best out of his animals using rotational grazing.

“I have about 100 paddocks, the biggest of which is 5.8ha. This enables me to rotationally graze almost all year round and shift most of my stock every day.”

Barry’s rotation length during the spring/summer period is 3-4 weeks extending to 7-8 weeks in the winter.

The secrets to success

During his dairying career Barry produced a number of AI Friesian bulls. In 1990 he bred the top Friesian bull in the country (Hillbrae HS Cinnamon) as well as having one of the genetically top herds. He was also one of the first Friesian breeders in the country to transplant Friesian embryos into recipient cows using the expertise of John and Guy Sargent at Opiki.

Maintaining young and vigorous pasture is another of Barry’s secrets to success. As soon as pasture starts losing its vigour a tractor moves in with a spray boom in the autumn and the paddock is direct drilled with an annual ryegrass such as Winter Star. This is sprayed out and replaced by chicory and red and white clover the following spring. These stands persist for several years with the oldest being about six. When run out they are lightly sprayed in the autumn and replaced with a predominantly perennial ryegrass-based pasture. Chicory persists well in these pastures even though it is not sown in the pasture mix.

Being rotationally grazed by cattle means the chicory has little opportunity to go to seed thus maintaining its high nutritive value.

Barry also has an area of fescue which has performed well all year round but particularly in dry summers. It requires a shorter rotation length than ryegrass and white clover pasture.

Barry does all his cultivating/planting with a Duncan direct drill which is kept busy between the four farms.
“I sold my plough several years ago then used to disc and power harrow but have also given that away. Our heavy soil is easily damaged using traditional cultivation methods and direct drilling is kinder on the soil.”
The mix of pasture species along with regular cultivation and abundant pasture conservation may be some of the reasons Barry doesn’t need to drench.

Cows and R2 in-calf heifers are rotated in separate mobs during the winter after the cows have cleaned up the gullies post weaning. About a month before calving begins R2 in-calf heifers and cows are sorted into mobs based on which bulls they will be mated to. Rationed on grass behind an electric wire they are fed plenty of hay which may be one of the reasons why Barry has few calving problems.

Starting calving on August 1 means Barry’s weaner bulls are not the oldest weaner calves around. However once they hit the ground they waste little time in putting on the weight with their mothers in great condition producing plenty of protein-rich milk (a characteristic of Simmental milk).

“Most of the calves are born in August with a few in September and early October,” Barry said.
Calves are tagged and given a 5-in-1 jab soon after birth. Once mobile the calf and mum are shed into an adjacent paddock where they are ad lib fed on grass.

Bulls go out to both cows and 15-month heifers in mid-October at a ratio of 1:40 for three cycles. Last year the MA cows produced only one dry (she had twins) with four heifers being dry out of 55.

“I had bull problems with the heifers which may explain the high dry rate with the biggest heifers being the empty ones.”

Once the bulls finish their job the heifers and cows are split into two mobs according to the sex of the calf being reared and rotated throughout the summer in these mobs.

In true dairying tradition, Barry may feed out some balage in the autumn if there is a shortage of feed. This shortage may be the result of him having a significant area under cultivation (pasture renewal).

Weaning of the bull calves occurs immediately before the first Feilding weaner fair around the middle of March. Heifers are yard weaned a couple of weeks later and fed balage for several days before being let out onto chicory and clover pasture. The cows replace the R2 in-calf heifers in the gullies and immediately set about cleaning up the roughage while the heifers come out onto the high octane feed on the flats.

Half the area of Barry’s farm is represented by deep unstable gullies running down from the Tararua Ranges. These are of low fertility and generally produce low quality feed which is ideal for wintering in-calf cows.

Being strongly focused on genetics, bull selection is an important task for Barry. He places a lot of emphasis on structural soundness, temperament, polledness and use of the Simmental Maternal index with a particular focus on direct calving ease. In recent years he has bought 32 excellent registered females from Rissington, Kerrah, Oripak and Riversend using bulls out of some of these as herd sires. More recently Kerrah bulls from the Knaufs’ large Simmental stud in Wairoa have been used with considerable success.

Farming in the southern Manawatu under the shadow of the Tararua Ranges has a number of challenges, not the least of which are the heavy clay, poorly drained yellow grey earth soils. Many clay tiles have been laid in these soils over the years in conjunction with mole ploughing and Barry admits many have probably broken down.

Since buying the farm, an ex dairy runoff, Barry has concentrated on raising the soil fertility on the flats having applied no fertiliser to the gullies. Olsen phosphate levels on the flats are in the mid-20s while sulphur levels are marginal and extremely difficult to maintain. Regular applications of lime are required to maintain the pH at optimum levels (5.8-6) and potash levels are satisfactory.

In spite of the pastures containing an abundance of red and white clover Barry has no bloat problems. He attributes this to a Massey University recommendation of applying salt (sodium) in the fertiliser and to not applying any potash.

Winter and early spring growth is given a boost by applying selenised Crop Masters 20 or 15 at 250kg/ha in the autumn or spring. Strategic use of Donaghy’s N-Boost on silage paddocks and other situations where a nitrogen boost is required applies 40kg liquid urea reducing nitrogen leaching by about 15%. Barry is a strong advocate of foliar application of fertiliser.