13th January 2015

Continuous improvement of stock quality is driving force on Perthshire farm

A clear focus on producing premium store cattle from an easily-managed herd was the primary objective for Graham Cameron when he established his suckler herd in 2005. 

Just under a decade later, his Wester Bonhard beef enterprise was named as a finalist in Quality Meat Scotland’s 2014, Scotch Beef Farm of the Year.

Farming with his parents, Sandy and Ann, just outside Scone, Perthshire, the business runs 100 spring calving suckler cows, which are mainly Limousin crosses and Belgium Blue crosses. The farm consists of a 120 hectare home farm with a further 98 hectares rented from the neighbouring farm.

“Decoupling gave us greater freedom to produce according to market demand,” comments Mr Cameron. “The rented farm has a lot of permanent grass and as I had always enjoyed working with cattle it made sense to utilise this grass more efficiently and start a suckler herd.”

With buyers returning year after year to buy from him at the second April sale in Stirling, many of his cattle go on to be sold to the butcher market. Over the last three years the Bonhard stores have consistently achieved 15 pence per kg above the sale average. 

“From the start I felt it was important to present a level batch of stores with the potential to produce E and U grades when finished. I sell almost the entire calf crop at this sale - buyers appreciate good batches of six or eight and more recently our black heifers have been purchased for replacement bulling heifers.”

Choosing his sires carefully with high Estimated Breeding Values (EBVs) for growth rates and carcase traits, Mr Cameron also pays close attention to predicted calving ease. The herd calve in a block and this year bulls were turned out on 1st May and taken out by 21st July.

“We aim to calve within a really tight period to ease labour requirements and it also helps to boost margins as small late calves reduce sale averages.”

Recognising the benefits of health accreditation, the business has been a member of the Herdcare High Health Scheme for six years. The herd is BVD accredited free, tested for Johne’s and vaccinated against Leptospirosis. Calves are all double vaccinated against pneumonia and Graham has fine-tuned this approach to minimise the disease at housing. The second vaccination is now administered one week before housing and he finds this provides the calves with  greater protection and reduces the incidence of pneumonia to less than two percent.

Further reductions in calf mortality are mainly due to the installation of two pan, tilt and zoom cameras in the calving shed. Controlled from the farmhouse, these enable wide area coverage and great detail when zooming in. 

Mr Cameron finds cows are more likely to calve themselves if he is not popping into the shed to check their progress, so interventions have been reduced. The same applies to the new-born calf who will stand up and suck more naturally if undisturbed.

Replacements are sourced from the in-calf heifer sale at Thainstone in late October. Mr Cameron finds they are mature with the size and shape he requires. They calve at three years old and buying in this manner keeps the breeding regime simple.

This year, however, he is going ahead with a trial which if successful he hopes will breed the ideal beef female for Bonhard. Having successfully sourced nine British Friesian cross Belgian Blue heifers these were AI’d with sexed semen from a Limousin and the first calves are due at the start of February. “I’m eager to see if we can retain the frame and confirmation of the Belgium Blue cross Limousin but increase the milkiness.  It’s early days but using sexed semen will help to accelerate the development of the herd.”

With the business growing 120 hectares of cereals and Sandy managing their 95,000 bird broiler unit, labour is fully utilised at Bonhard. Mr Cameron finds time to show a few of his stock at local shows and his spring-born Limousin cross heifer took the reserve championship in the commercial section at Perth Show. He enjoys competing and admits the driving force in his beef enterprise is to constantly improve the quality of the stock.

Mr Cameron concludes:  “Competing with a homebred animal is a great way to promote my stock and good results in the show and sale ring are the best encouragement to strive to improve even further.”

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