M J & D K Ferris
THE FARM: Bugford Farm, Dartmouth, Devon
THE LIVESTOCK: 67 pedigree cows and in-calf heifers, 3 pedigree stock bulls and 100 youngstock
South Devons are well known for their gentle temperament – and it’s exactly that which drew Martin and Debbie Ferris to the breed. Starting out with 25 dairy crosses and a busy family life, they have since changed tack to establish a successful 170-head pedigree South Devon herd.
‘The crosses were temperamental, making them difficult to handle at times,’ says Debbie. ‘With Martin often working alone we decided to seek a quieter breed.’
The couple decided to switch to the breed Debbie’s family were already familiar with, the South Devon.
n 1998 they bought their first three in-calf South Devon cows – Roskymer Downy 86, Waddeton Gladys 7 and Waddeton Hilda 51 – at a dispersal sale. Later that year Waddeton Hilda produced a bull calf – AI Bugford Concorde – sired by AI Asdig Concorde 1. ‘The bloodlines and conformation of his dam and sire were very desirable so we kept him entire and made him our first stock bull,’ says Martin.
Pleased with their Waddeton cows, the Ferris’s went on to buy three Waddeton in-calf heifers from Gordon Tully and an in-calf heifer – East Farm Hilda 2 – from Philip Tully’s newly established herd. To increase bloodlines further, heifers from the local South Devon Cattle Breeders Club Sale and from private breeders in Devon, were acquired. Good quality bulls were also purchased including Treguddick Progression 9 from the Thomas family in Cornwall.
Now running as a closed herd, the couple only buy in quality stock bulls. ‘We prefer to buy privately and will always view any prospective bulls on the seller’s farm to see how they behave in their own environment,’ says Debbie. ‘We look for ease of calving, a zero myostatin status and sound feet with an excellent temperament – more recently we have also pursued the polled gene.’
The Ferris’s current stock bulls – Treguddick Hallmark 26, Keaton Nizam and AI Z East Farm Javelin – all placed in the 2019 National Herd Competition, coming 4th, 13th and 17th respectively. ‘We were absolutely delighted,’ says Debbie. ‘Hallmark made a particular impression with the judges, they gave credit to him as a breed example but were also very complimentary about his bloodlines.’
Despite the pedigree focus, they run the herd very much on a commercial basis, with Martin at the helm. Recently he split it into two spring calving herds; one calving through March and April, and the other comprising heifers calving in May. ‘We’ve always calved the heifers at around three years of age,’ says Martin. ‘But with the acquisition of additional land and a need to expand our herd, we decided to take the best of our 2018 heifers and create a new herd calving down at two years of age.’
Martin weans the calves at seven months old. ‘Our annual TB test coincides with both weaning and housing,’ he explains.
‘We have found that weaning calves after the TB test, as opposed to just before, causes less stress to both cow and calf – we usually bring the cattle in on 1 November with the TB test happening not long after.’
He castrates all bull calves for fattening, and grows the heifers until two years of age, before selecting the best for breeding and finishing the rest.
During winter housing, cows are fed grass silage and hay while youngstock and fattening cattle get 1kg/day of 16% protein concentrate with ad-lib grass silage. ‘We used to feed home-grown cereals, but changed our farming policy recently and moved away from growing grain,’ says Martin.
‘We use cubicles in the winter for the cows and strip graze them in the summer which is quite unusual, and is a practice influenced by my upbringing in dairy farming. It works well, keeping the cows clean and reducing straw use at housing and maintaining good grass feed rations and close contact with the cows in the summer, shifting the fence twice a day at the same time. They love the routine, and letting us know if we are late by calling out!’
The fattening cattle are finished at 18–23 months, killing out at 330–360kg deadweight as mainly R grades with occasional U’s. ‘ABP take those that are fit straight off grass around October and the rest when ready.’
Herd health is important to the Ferris’s and following a rotavirus outbreak 15 years ago, they now routinely vaccinate all in-calf females. ‘Since using the vaccine we’ve had no problem with calf scours,’ says Martin. ‘We are now looking at the herd health schemes the Society recommends.’
The couple also annually bolus the cows with trace elements for improved health, and provide access to magnesium buckets all year round.
They have ambitions to enter into pedigree sales in the future, but above all uphold a passion for generating breed recognition. Martin explains: ‘We would like the breed to be recognised for its excellent meat quality – the South Devon shows British beef at its best.’