Aberdeen-Angus breeder embraces DNA tagging commitment

19 September 2014

Montrose-based Alex Sanger runs the successful, 200-strong Rosemount herd of Aberdeen-Angus cattle at his Prettycur Farm in the county of Angus, Scotland. The farm, which recently enjoyed its 50th anniversary, was traditionally arable and is now mixed with a successful herd of commercial, pedigree Aberdeen-Angus cattle. 

Alex is a real patron of the Aberdeen-Angus breed and sits on the health and breed promotion committees at the Aberdeen-Angus Cattle Society. His successful beef and arable farm has seen continued success over the last 19 years’ since introducing Aberdeen-Angus cattle. The light sandy land is perfectly suited to rearing Aberdeen-Angus cattle, with the main arable crop being spring barley which is complemented by the grassland and FYM from the livestock enterprise to improve the soil structure and fertility. Without this, the yields would be significantly lower.

Alex Sanger started breeding Aberdeen-Angus cattle in 1995, with just seven cows purchased from the Fairoaks Herd. This has since expanded to a herd of over 200, winning the Bank of Scotland Aberdeen-Angus Suckler Herd of the Year Award in 2011.
Alex and his wife Wendy were keen to start a cattle enterprise due to the increasing demand for Aberdeen-Angus beef, and the positive effect that rearing cattle would have on the arable operation.  A strategy which is proving to be a profitable management system for this commercial farm.

When asked why he chose to breed Aberdeen-Angus cattle, Alex said; “Aberdeen-Angus cattle are well suited to our arable land, this coupled with their easy management and low cost of production makes for a profitable beef enterprise.”

The Sangers serve the heifers to calve at two years old and run two calving periods, one in the winter between the start of November to the end of December and the other in the spring from April to May. As the family run the farm almost independently, this provides an opportunity to split the workload.  The family sell most of its finished steers to Scotbeef and mainly grade R4L or R4H at 330kg on average and are finished between 17 and 20 months of age. The Sangers have also developed a successful export business for heifers, exporting to breeders in Estonia, France and Romania.

In June this year, the Aberdeen-Angus Cattle Society announced its commitment to introduce the latest DNA tagging technology to sample every pedigree Aberdeen-Angus calf when being tagged at birth. The innovative technology was developed in order to protect the integrity of its Herd Book and the iconic Aberdeen-Angus brand, a first for any breed society in the UK.

Alex has embraced the use of Caisley’s DNA tags on his commercially run Rosemount herd. Having moved to the new tagging system in April after experiencing issues with his previous supplier, he was one of the first breeders to implement the system prior to the Society’s announcement in June.

“When this latest development was announced, I was happy to implement the use of DNA tags across my herd, in a bid to raise industry standards. So far, I have been happy with the performance of the tags to date, they have caused me no real issues. There have been no additional cost implications, and they are simple to use in practice.”

“In the past we have had to collect DNA samples for identification reasons and I see this as an extension to that process. I can certainly see the benefits of having all cattle on this one robust system.”

The DNA sampling system was implemented to ensure consistency across the breed and to provide 100% quality assurance for breeders who can now purchase cattle with a potential DNA verified pedigree. 

The Society has developed the livestock tagging technology in partnership with Caisley Eartag Ltd and IdentiGEN, which have supported the Society’s quest for a robust and cost effective solution for taking and storing DNA samples from all pedigree calves. The FlexoPlus Geno system takes the tissue sample safely when inserting a Geno tag at birth, locating, sealing and barcoding the sample tube automatically - eliminating any risk of contamination.  The system has been in operation since June this year and will require all pedigree calves to be tagged by 2015.

Another Aberdeen-Angus farmer who has pro-actively implemented the system is Leo McCourt from Northfield Farm situated near Leicestershire. Leo has used the DNA tags from Caisley for all his latest calves, when asked about the new system he said; “Running a small herd of 25-30 Aberdeen-Angus cattle we have had a great experience so far in using the new DNA tagging system, the tags are good quality and it’s no additional cost or work to implement them. For me the whole process can only be a good thing, it means all of us pedigree Aberdeen-Angus breeders are on a level playing field with no opportunity for discrepancies.” 

This year, Alex’s Rosemount Farms aim to have 15 heifers joining the winter calving herd with a further 35 entering the spring calves in2015. Alex intends to be an active player in commercial beef production, and as such continues to explore the development of innovative processes and techniques in heat detection and nutrition to deliver the best return from his pedigree commercial herd. He continues to be an active member of the commercial beef farming industry and of the Aberdeen-Angus Cattle Society. As such, he continues to play a role in the development of innovative processes and techniques to deliver the best return from his commercial herd.