DNA aiding farming decisions at Spurtleton Downs

Spurtleton Downs - located in Omihi, North Canterbury - is home to farming couple Bridget Banks and Chris Pennell, and their two children Alice and Jeremy.

The 800ha property has been in Bridget’s family for almost 30 years, with Bridget and Chris taking over management nine years ago.

The farm is well balanced, with almost half consisting of productive flats - 120ha of which is irrigated – while the other half complements with rolling and easy hill country.

Bridget and Chris aim to finish all stock on farm, preferably having the cattle finished before their second winter.

“We aim to be as efficient as possible. We feed really well and aim to maximize profit” explains Bridget.

The breeding stock run on the farm consists of 4000 breeding ewes and 150 breeding cows.

They utilise the trusted Romney as their maternal breed, putting several terminal sires over them including Dorset, South Down and Headwaters to supply the Lumina Lamb.

For their cow herd they take advantage of cross breeding using a Hereford Angus cross cow.

“We are a strong believer in hybrid vigour growth and enjoy working with both cattle breeds” Bridget said.

“Our objective with our cattle is to have easy calving followed by fast growth.

“We also look for good fertility to reduce the number of cows who fail to get in-calf.

“Docility at all times is also key. Health and safety for us and our staff cannot be underestimated!”

Intramuscular fat (IMF) is another key trait chased at Spurtleton Downs as they supply cattle for the Alliance Handpicked program.

In 2023 Bridget and Chris were excited to be accepted into the Beef + Lambs Next Generation Program, which is designed to increase linkages within the beef industry and contribute to the genetic evaluations the wider INZB program is looking to develop.

“The program provided us with a subsidy to start genetic testing our cows and bulls along with support on-farm and ongoing guidance” Bridget explained.

The program requires commercial farmers to record several traits as well as DNA testing all animals involved. SNP profile of 50K or higher and full parentage results are required.

Bridget and Chris decided to take their genetic testing one-step further by opting for PBBnz Igenity + 100K SNP Profile bundle.

“We wanted data that would help us better understand our herd’s strengths and weaknesses and help us make the best breeding decisions we could. We also wanted to be able to monitor our herd’s improvement over time and we felt that Igenity would provide those answers for us” says Bridget.

“Rather than making generalised decisions, we can now be strategic when buying bulls and focus on the traits we want to improve. Alongside this, when selecting our replacements, we will be able to make our choices based her genetic profile, rather than simply relying on only the look of the heifer”

Undertaking DNA testing for the first time can be a huge challenge, however, they found the process straightforward.

“We were lucky to have the support of Beef + Lamb to help us on the farm when taking the DNA samples”

They also utilised the how - to videos and flyers on the PBB website to help with any queries they had.

“PBB has been great! We have had great support from day one in terms of understanding the process and then talking through the results data and following up. We have recently sent our calf data away, so are looking forward to seeing how their data stacks up with the rest.”