Breeding the best Belties
by Sally Colby
Although Tim Duval and Heidi Loring both grew up on small farms, Loring was adamant that farming wouldn’t be a part of her future. That changed.
They started HT Farm in Belmont, NH, in 2017. “I was in the military for 20 years, then spent 12 years working on a ranch in Colorado,” said Duval. “I moved back here in 2015 and that’s when Heidi and I started with Belted Galloways.”
The farm is currently home to 168 head, 35 of which are mature cows. The rest are replacements and feeders. Despite the potential for bad weather in early spring, the majority of the herd is bred for spring calving.
“About 25 will calve in spring, and the rest in fall,” said Duval. “Calving starts in February with cows that had been bred AI, continues into March and tapers off in April. Cows that aren’t bred AI are bred by a bull. Fall cows are pasture bred, and their calves are usually born in October.” He added that fall calving can be a gamble, but if the ground is frozen in late October and early November, calves develop well.
When Duval selects AI sires, he’s looking for herd improvement traits including calving ease, milk production and birthweight. “We shoot for 53 to 68 pounds at birth,” he said. “We also look at weaning weights.”
Duval and Loring have improved the herd through genetics primarily from Scotland, Ireland and Canada. “We also use genetics from a North Carolina farm to get larger animals,” said Duval. “Calves still have low birth weights but weaning and finishing weights are higher.”
All the bulls on the farm are from AI breeding, which allows Duval to accelerate the addition of superior genetics to the herd. One of the herd bulls, Rocky, traces parentage from Ireland. “I got semen from Ireland, AI’d one of the cows and got Rocky,” Duval said. “Then I used him on all the cows except his mother to start another genetic line.”
Duval uses CattleMax to track herd statistics. “I can monitor all the herd, even the feeders, from birthweight to three months to weaning weight,” he said. “There’s also weight, conformation, carcass weight and marbling. Then I can look back at that line and see if I want to continue or if they aren’t producing the meat to bone ratio, carcass weight or marbling I want.” He also tracks herd health, vaccines, breeding and pasture rotation.
Cattle are worked through the chutes frequently to check weights and conformation, which helps Duval determine which animals to keep. “We hold over some of our bulls each year,” he said. “If it looks like they’ll turn into nice bulls we’ll keep them, and either sell them as bulls or use as a replacement bull to switch our genetics around.”
The majority of the herd grazes on various leased pastures between May and December. Depending on weather, cattle are brought back to the home farm around Thanksgiving. Cows are wintered on the home farm and calve there. The home farm serves primarily as a sacrifice area for winter, along with facilities for feeders, stockers, replacement heifers and bred cows. Duval said when given a choice, cows prefer to calve outside, so he observes them closely around their due dates.
When the weather is bad, Duval brings the cow and her newborn calf to the barn and places the calf in a warming box for a short time to ensure a good start. “I only keep them inside long enough to make sure the calf has had sufficient colostrum or a bit of extra warming,” he said. “Then the cow and her calf spend a little time in the alleyway prior to going back outside, and if it’s cold, I put a calf blanket on the calf.”
If AI-bred cows are due to calve during bad weather, Duval brings them inside within a day or so of their due date. He also observes pasture-bred cows and watches for signs of imminent calving. “I have day pasture and night pasture for the momma cows,” he said. “We roll out round bales of straw in the calving area so they have something to lay on, and I check them throughout the day.”
All newborn calves receive a nasal vaccine to prevent respiratory illness. Duval has found that when calves are kept inside too long, there’s a higher chance of respiratory issues, so they remain outside if they’re up and moving and nursing. If first calf heifers seem confused about their new calf, Duval puts the pair in a chute for bonding. He’s ready to intervene if necessary, but avoids interfering with cow/calf bonding.
To reduce the risk of injury to young calves during hauling to summer pasture, Duval separates cows from calves and administers another dose of nasal vaccine to calves prior to moving. “It’s a new experience and calves can get stressed,” he explained. “The calves are in one trailer and the mommas are in another.” Some pastures are 45 to 60 minutes from the home farm and are set up for rotational grazing. Duval relies on help from his two border collies to move cattle both at home and on pasture.
Grazing ground for the herd includes about 700 acres of lifetime leases. One property is the vast acreage of Steele Hill Resort, which was grazing grounds for Belted Galloways in the 1800s.
Duval sections grazing areas with single-strand polywire, equipped with a solar-powered, timed-release gate opener that’s programmed to open after a certain number of hours.
Feeder cattle are finished for 90 days on a mix of crimped corn, sorghum and milo with a mineral supplement formulated for grass-fed cattle. “When I first bring them home, I feed dry hay,” said Duval. “When it gets colder, I switch to haylage.”
Although he sells some breeding stock, he’s still growing the herd. “I’m raising a unique genetic line, so right now I’m keeping most of them,” he said. “I’d like to have a rotational 200 – calving about 55 to 65 a year and processing about the same number.”
This year, Duval plans to start a program that will involve breeding a group of Belted Galloway females to Angus. He’ll start by breeding the group to Angus bulls with low birthweight and good temperament (disposition) scores. Then he’ll breed the resulting F1 females back to Angus for a one-quarter Beltie, three-quarters Angus cross, which he believes will increase carcass weights without affecting birthweights.
“It’s going to take a couple years to see the results of the program,” said Duval, “but I know some guys in the Midwest who have had good results with the same cross. I should be able to cut finish time. I think it’s going to be a good mix with the right disposition with good birthweights.”
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