Salers Society – Spring News 2018

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First up is the “Tour de France”, 7 New Zealand representatives on board the tour bus, joined by – 2 Mexicans; 3 Brits; 6 Americans; 5 Canadians… We had one day touring Paris, with lunch at Montmartre, and a dinner cruise on the Seine; we were joined by Stephan, from Groupe Salers Evolution, and our interpreter, Melanie. Day 2, we were finally free of the traffic and crowds of Paris, and heading through open country – mainly arable land, interspersed with masses of forest. Expressways, all tolled, were very good. France had a prolonged dry spell – three months without significant rain – so farmers were digging into winter feed stores. Almost universally – the traditional acceptance of horns, and first calving of heifers at three, were the norm. In the Cantal district – most herds wear sturdy leather collars, with solid brass bells attached – hearing the cattle on the move, is like a peal of church bells, quite magical at dawn or dusk. From the bus, it was easy to see that Charolais cattle are the no.1 beef breed; but many herds contained Salers and other beef cows, running with Charolais bulls – the Charolais/Salers progeny being particularly sought after, with an advantage of 30-50 kg on the purebred Salers. Most surplus Salers bulls were not steered – many being exported to Italy for finishing. Below are the photographs and a brief synopsis of each property we visited.

Firstly, the Loiret farm of Michel Fontenoy, set in pretty, wooded, gently rolling countryside.The farm of 215 hectares, had been converted from dairy to Salers beef in 2013. Some cultivation is undertaken (cereals and peas), with the pasture being a mixture of “prairiestemporaires” and “prairies naturelles” Michel has established a partnership with a local supermarket chain, to supply Salers beef marketed as “Label Rouge” Salers beef; environmental protocols have to be followed, and it was clear that organizing local abbatoirs, regular slaughter, meat distribution had been a mission, finally successful. The supermarket owner brought a great range of products for our first on – farm lunch, a feast of Salers cheese, cold meats, breads and salads, followed by a selection of tarts for dessert. We were also introduced to an aperitif/tonic drink, brewed from the roots of mountain gentian (gentian lutea) – apparently a specialty of the Limousin area, with plants from Auvergne.

View of countryside and cattle from Salers Village

The Groupe Salers Evolution testing station visit followed a night in the Spa city of Vichy, and a settling in at our hotels in Salers village. Bruno Faure and Stephan walked us through the facitity (our interpreter needed here – she had not met with the term “scrotal circumference” before; this required some delicate explantation… Established in 2008, the facility has space for 128 animals.. which are selected from about 400 nominations; 90% beef, 10%milk. Conformation and breeding figures are considered, and must be from proven sires and dams. Salers Stud breeders pay 800 Euros per bull to go through the process. The bulls are treated for external and internal parasites on arrival; they go through 3 regimes – 6 weeks adaptation (ad lib hay; weaner concentrate to 3.5kg/day.) 84 days 4kg concentrate/day plus adlib hay; followed by 3 weeks sale prep-feed brought back to hay only, to prepare them for on-farm conditions. They are weighed every 28 days, and scored for breed qualities, skeletal and muscular development – with a special measurement of the pelvis, related to the importance of easy calving in this breed.

Yearling Bulls

Groupe Salers Evolution – bull evaluations

We were split between the small family hotels – Hotel des Ramparts, at the high point of the village, and the Hotel Le Bailliage, at the bottom of the village.. we had beautiful dinners, one at each hotel…

Gaec Elevage Missiel. A family farm with two brothers as working partners, and one part-time worker; 240 hectares, ranging from 1100 metres to 1400 metres above sea level; 213 hectares of permanent pasture, with 25 hectares of temporary pastures/cereal for stock feed. Carrying 165 cows, 85% purebred. Objectives – quote from the farmers – “Calving Dec/April. Aiming to maximize production from spring/summer pasture. Selecting for adaptation to their environment; average size; easy care; good legs and feet; easy calving”. We were fascinated by three bobtailed working dogs – we had to work through broken French and English to discover – they were from an Australian working dog line, born stumpy, so almost certainly – going back to Smithfield lines!

Cow at Gaec Duval-Besse

In the district of Riom es Montagne, the Duval-Besse farm of 136 hectares, sits at an elevation of 950 metres above sea level; the family have established a restaurant – in a converted barn – where we enjoyed a great buffet lunch. The herd of 115 Salers cows are mated to Salers or Charolais bulls. They calve November – February. Influential Salers bulls have been Ourgan, Safran, and the Garrouste herd in Cantal. This herd produced the top Group of 5 at the Sommet, later in the week…

One man and his Cows

Gaec Freyssac was a traditional Salers dairy farm, milking 60 cows, with a further 30 suckler cows, running on 98 hectares, with two working partners, and a full time employee supported. A cheese making workshop was established in 2015, producing 11 tonnes of cheese per year – an early season rich cheese from the spring pasture; and a late season batch. Cows come in, briefly feed their calves (“to initiate the let-down”) and are then milked out; the bonny looking calves are housed, and fed supplements in between milk feeds. Buffet lunch in the cowshed featured wine, bread, cold meats and cheese – we were getting used to this! We saw our host again at the Sommet – he was one of the senior judges, full on for the whole three days of the show.

John Gerke checking out the 2yr heifers at Gaec de Morvan Freres – the only Polled herd we visited

Lemorvan brothers run the main Polled Salers operation in France – their farm, at Aix Correze, is 830 metres above sea level, and consists of mainly cleared woodland, with gentle contour. 100 hectares is permanent pasture, with 90 hectares of hybrid pastures, and 10 hectares of cereals grown for stockfeed. 130 purebred cows, retaining 30 heifers per year, and six service bulls. They aim for carcase weights of 420kg, and meat is marketed with a quality label. Selection objectives – Looking for cows to milk well enough on pasture so that supplementation of cows/calves is not required; calving takes place through the autumn. The polled genes have been brought in since 2010, prior to this, Gitan, Odon, Hurleur, Numero. Joker (presumably Cumbrian Joker?) has been the main polled influence. The homebred, homozygous bull, Hussar, by Joker Poll out of a high performing cow (still producing at 11) is now being promoted as a source of Polled genetics, available through Genes Diffusion. The cattle here were noticeably more reactive and free moving than the extensively handled cattle on the other farms – they spend more time at pasture, and are rotationally grazed. Like the other cattle we saw – all in excellent condition, despite the hard season. Black coffee and fruit tart for afternoon tea – then we headed back to Vichy, for a 4 night stay, with daily visits to the Sommet L’Elevage. Think of the Fieldays, with the Royal Shows’ worth of livestock added on, and you have a picture of the scope of this show – the biggest agricultural show in France.

Grand ring at the Sommet – 18 year old Cow with her 17th calf at foot (two sets of twins – she calved first at age 3)

The winning Group of 10 Salers from one stud farm

Daily bus trips to Clermont-Ferrand were smooth, until we got close to the showgrounds… late arrivals paid the price – a long slow crawl to the bus park… There were two expeditions off site – one to the Puy de Dome volcanic area – the only foggy day, views non-existent! The information which caught my eye, in our “no more cows” world – the management of the cleared, grassy areas of the volcanic area with light grazing by cattle and sheep, is considered to be “the most environmentally sustainable”; the recorded history of the area shows periods of local “peasantry” grazing; land enclosures; reforesting and clearing of forests by turns… Currently, there are a mixture of forested and pastured areas… On day two, those of us who chose to hop off the bus in Clermont-Ferrand for a guided city tour, made the right choice… with an excellent guide, walking the city streets, visiting the cathedral and Romanesque church, was a pleasure… while the rest of the tour sat in a 2 hour traffic jam, at the Sommet.. We all had plenty of time to watch judging – all beef breeds in the main ring, but Salers as feature breed, dominated with 400 animals on the ground; during the judging of the group-of-ten, 90 animals in the main ring at one time; two handlers per animal – it was pretty crowded in there… all professionals, no dramas with the stock. Dairies and sheep were judged in smaller, under cover rings. Some interesting sheep – with Southdowns and Suffolks onsite – the Suffolks very different in type, dumpy, short-legged, broad headed; producing good lambing figures (and meaty…)

We had a disappointing experience at the International Salers Society meeting, with Ron Coomber stepping aside in fraught circumstances, the opportunity to thank him for his sterling work (growing the Society by 8 new member nations; great communication/assistance to all, including us here in New Zealand – especially with the “lost in translation” hassles with booking the Tour). Currently, we have two presidents, Thomas Halm, and Eduardo Padillo. We got to know Eduardo as he toured with us – he farms 5,000 acres of semi arid land near Chihuahua, and is a great Salers enthusiast – he has had his offer of hosting the next International Tour in Mexico, accepted… so, a great opportunity to visit new territory, and a different type of farming!

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