6th January 2014

Focused Low Cost System Proves Successful for Perthshire Sheep and Cattle Producer

A Perthshire beef and sheep producer, who stopped making silage 18 years ago, has successfully devised a simple, low-cost business strategy which is delivering great results.

Iain Malcolm farms near Dunblane where he is a tenant on Cromlix Estate, owned by the Eden family. Mr Malcolm runs the farm business in partnership with his wife, Sarah, and son, Angus, and says there are two key factors which mean he can avoid the costs of making silage or growing forage crops and over-wintering. The first is attention to detail in stock and grass management and the second is maintaining a light stocking rate on the 2700 acres of tenanted hill and upland ground.

Cromlix Farm is one of the case studies being showcased in the Planning for Profit roadshows taking place around the country in the coming weeks. Planning for Profit is an initiative aimed at assisting farmers to ensure their businesses are well-placed to operate profitably in the face of potentially reduced support payments. The initiative is supported by the Scottish Government’s Skills Development Scheme, Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) and NFU Scotland.

In a new Planning for Profit video, Mr Malcolm, who has run the farm for 23 years, talks passionately about his unusual approach to running his suckler herd of 170 cows, along with 1000 Blackface ewes.

Something he is emphatic about is that a successful low cost extensive system doesn’t mean less management or thought is needed than a more intensive system.

“For us to ensure we have an efficient, sustainable business requires constant year-round management of the cattle and we need an extremely structured and focused approach to allow us to maintain a reasonable margin,” said Mr Malcolm.

Type of cow is a crucial ingredient in the recipe for success at Cromlix. The cows are Highland cross Shorthorn and they are completely out-wintered, avoiding any housing costs.

“They are a very hardy type of cow which is well-suited to out-wintering. They are  good foragers which are easily handled and they are good mothers with longevity, well able to rear a  calf every year.”

Half of the cows are crossed with high EBV Charolais bulls which are selected for calving ease, first and foremost, coupled with the visuals of length, height and a rangy frame to produce shapely calves that are fast-growing. The main crop of calves is sold in Stirling in mid-October, averaging 275kg for steers and 265kg for heifers.

The remainder of the cows go to Simmental bulls with 40-50 breeding cross Simmental heifers and in-calf cows sold most years. The cows are lightly stocked and don’t start receiving feed until early January when they get 2-3kgs of concentrate feed per head until mid-March when the cows calve and the feed is increased to 4-5kg of feed.

“They get the feed from a snacker in the morning and then disperse to graze for the rest of the day. This system means we are also improving the farm for sheep because we are keeping the number of cows on the farm down, we are also keeping the roughage down so we don’t need to feed our sheep.”

Mr Malcolm explained the rationale behind giving up making silage 18 years ago was to fully embrace this extensive grazing and out-wintering system.

“The cows are grazed on the fields where we would normally grow silage. This allows them to put on condition so the calves are better because they are milking more and the cows take the bull better.

“The hill is allowed to grow ungrazed in the summer. It’s quite surprising how well the grass grows – the good dry areas are almost like hay fields and the cows get back onto these once the calves are weaned in mid-September.”

Mr Malcolm points out this is quite an unusual calf marketing strategy but, by adopting this management approach the cows can improve their condition before the winter, and the longer the period they are not milking, the less additional feed is  required.

This system allows the Malcolms to have minimal housing costs and very low machinery costs. The machinery they use to run the business is as follows: a 70hp Zetor tractor  with loader;  one six wheeled Polaris ranger with snacker attached;  two quad bikes; one direct seed drill; one lime spreader; one post driver; land rover and pick up; and two livestock trailers.

“We have good cow fertility and calf growth rates and we’ve achieved 91% calves reared from cows and heifers put to the bull.

“The calves grow at 1.2 kgs/day liveweight gain from birth to weaning at 22 weeks off milk and grass in mid-September and 61% of cows calf in the first three weeks of calving, with 100% calved in eight weeks.”

The Malcolms don’t breed their own replacements because they want to keep their system as simple as possible so replacement females are all bought, mostly from the west coast, as either heifer calves or sometimes bulling heifers.  The herd is tested for BVD and has no cases of Johne’s. The bulls, which only spend nine weeks in with the cows, are over-wintered in a birch wood which is kept ungrazed over the summer.

“Our system relies on low stocking density. If we were to increase our stock numbers our costs would immediately be affected and I predict we would have lower fertility and lighter calves and our labour and machinery costs, which are currently very low, would rise.”

To hear Iain Malcolm talk about management strategy, click here to view the video of Iain on his farm.

To book a place on one of the free roadshow events, 10am – 3.30pm (including lunch) call Kirsty on 0131 472 4040 or email info@qmscotland.co.uk. Places will be allocated on a first come basis.

Planning for Profit Roadshow – forthcoming dates:

  • Tuesday 21st January 2014 – Lochside Hotel, New Cumnock
  • Thursday 23rd January 2014 – Dewar’s Ice Rink, Perth
  • Wednesday 12th February 2014 – Thistle Hotel, Inverness

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