10th January 2017
East Lothian Farming Family’s Recognised in Major Award
In just five years an East Lothian family have developed an all-arable farm into a very impressive beef cattle unit which emerged as a finalist in the recent Scotch Beef Farm of the Year awards.
Andrew and Josephine Kennedy of Seggarsdean, Haddington were both surprised and delighted when their farm was short-listed for the award, run by AgriScot and Quality Meat Scotland.
Mr and Mrs Kennedy and sons, James (16) and Robert (13) hail originally from Ballymena in Northern Ireland but bought Seggarsdean in 2010 and moved over in June 2011.
Mr Kennedy has no idea who nominated the farm but son Robert persuaded him to complete the entry application and they were thrilled to be announced as one of the finalists.
The 263-hectare farm was predominantly arable when the family purchased it. However, the Kennedys had established a good Limousin cross suckler cow herd in Co Antrim, so they sowed more grass, put up fences and erected another cattle shed before bringing the cows to Scotland. The herd now numbers 115.
There are still about 162 hectares of oilseed rape, winter and spring barley and winter wheat in the arable rotation, alongside the cattle enterprise, all of which is farmed by the Kennedy family. Two cuts of silage are taken; the first cut in early May provides high quality forage for finishing cattle and the autumn calvers to save on purchased feed, while the second cut goes to the dry cows.
Introducing a cattle enterprise onto an arable farm has benefitted the cropping side too, improving soil structure and fertility and Mr Kennedy pointed out that the fields which get farmyard manure will always out yield those with bagged fertiliser.
Two-thirds of the herd is autumn calving, which coincides with harvest, so the family has adopted technology such as Moocall and CCTV cameras linked to mobile phones.
Mr Kennedy said: "Monitoring the calving pens allows us to get on with other jobs and lead a life but also this is where Josephine comes into her own; keeping an eye on the cattle while the harvest is taking place."
Calves are born from the third week in August and stay with their dams until the beginning of August the following year, when the cows come inside onto a dry cow ration of straw, silage and pot ale syrup until they calve again and are turned back out to grass until November. Weaning weights for steers are 425kg and heifers 380kg.
Mr Kennedy said: "The idea of keeping the calves on the cows for so long is firstly to prevent summer mastitis but also to prevent huge calves at birth."
A challenge of autumn calving is getting cows back in calf, but the Kennedys put them on a good ration from early November two weeks before introducing the four bulls which run with them all winter and has few problems, with 78% calving in the first six weeks.
They use Limousin bulls but this year tried a British Blue as they sell bulling heifers at Caledonian Marts in Stirling and believe there is a demand for really shapely heifers capable of producing a show calf.
"Selling breeding heifers is a bonus to the finishing system but in May we took a first prize at Stirling with a pen of four and the nine bulling heifers sold averaged £1,480," said Mr Kennedy.
The rest of the heifers are finished along with the steers at around 18 months and Seggarsdean cattle are popular with butchers and commanding good prices at both Caledonian Marts and St Boswells. Mr Kennedy said: "Our challenge now is to finish the steers at under 600kg to comply with demand, but I believe the Limousin has the versatility to finish at lighter weights."
The remainder of the herd calves in the spring but these cattle are housed by July in their second year and given at least a couple of months on a finishing ration including home-grown barley, ground maize and soya before sale. This, they believe, helps the cattle kill out better, at close to 60%, and he gets good feedback from the buyers.
The family are absolutely dedicated to the care of their cattle and Mr Kennedy pointed out that they have tried to employ a stockman a few times, but it is difficult to find someone as dedicated to stock when they are not their own. The two boys are especially keen and take a real interest in choosing bulls and work on the farm during all their school holidays.
"Being a family business, we maintain a high level of order, cleanliness and hygiene across the unit. We tackle problems as they occur and don’t take a 'sort it out tomorrow' attitude."
Justifiably proud of their stock, they support Haddington Show where, in 2015, they won all four trophies in the cattle section with cows and calves and prime cattle.
Although bulling heifers are still purchased in Ireland for replacements Mr Kennedy has no regrets about moving to Scotland to farm. He said: "Producing Scotch Beef PGI, an internationally renowned brand, is a fantastic privilege and to be a finalist for Scotch Beef Farm of the Year makes all the hard work even more worthwhile."