The dedication of a Lanarkshire farming family to producing quality beef, resulted in their farm being selected as a finalist in the Scotch Beef Farm of the Year award, run by Agriscot and Quality Meat Scotland and sponsored by Thorntons.
Douglas Frame (24) runs the business in partnership with his dad, Jim, and brother, James, at Birks Farm, near Carluke. Since joining the business four years ago, he has embraced the technology available to allow him to get the most out of the herd of 130 Aberdeen-Angus cross suckler cows.
Birks Farm runs to just under 220 hectares and, apart from the cattle, they run 200 ewes and grow about 14 hectares of barley.
The cattle system is extensive and low input but the results are impressive. “Our focus is on the customer and producing quality beef, we believe that to do that cattle need time to grow and mature,” said Douglas Frame.
The family are rightly proud that they have twice won the Scotbeef/Marks and Spencer Aberdeen Angus Finishing Award scheme.
“The award takes into account quality, consistency and the eating quality of the animals. In terms of grades and weights throughout the year ours were judged as the most consistent for the consumer,” said Douglas Frame.
He added: “We are delighted that, on both occasions the beef from our animals which was judged on the plate scored the highest in terms of taste and tenderness showing that low input, easy fleshing animals that are slaughtered at 24 months can give a superior eating experience.”
The Frames believe that the eating quality of their beef is down to genetics and management. Their cows are very docile, calved outdoors and calves have two summers at grass before they are finished. While this may not be the fastest method of fattening cattle, the business’ entire bought in feeding consists of ten tonnes per year of beef blend and a tonne of minerals to mix with home-grown barley. The calves also receive about 3,000 litres of high protein molasses when they are housed for the winter.
The cattle at Birks farm also have very high health, good calving figures and low mortality rates which all help to improve margins. “Our aim is to keep costs to a minimum but still produce a top quality product,” said Jim Frame (snr).
The herd is spring calving with 40 of the youngest cows out-wintered on a 7.5 hectare grazing with trees for shelter and a hard standing for feeding silage. Recent SAC trials showed that the outwintered cows had a better condition score than those inside and in fact the Frames said that all their cows carry more condition than average through the winter, calving at around 3 or 3.25.
However they have very few problems at calving with only three assisted out of 124 calved in 2017.
Douglas Frame said: “We are focused on easy calving and getting live calves on the ground as this is the most important KPI in our opinion, for any beef farm. This year we have achieved over 97% calving from cows put to the bull to calves weaned!”
The Frames believe that the strict culling policy for anything not in calf or with any health problems helps with the exceptionally low mortality rate of less than one per cent.
“I think temperament is important and part of the reason for the low mortality rate is that our cows and calves are never stressed. We may not calve until they are three years old but over a quarter of the herd is over ten years old and most cows will have 10, 11 or even 12 calves during their life,” said Douglas Frame.
Although the family have tried calving at two, they are reluctant to change a system that works well for them.
The Frames think that a potential way of adding value will be to sell either surplus bulling heifers or heifers with calves at-foot and this year there are 60 heifers in the shed with only about 18 required for replacements. Although Angus bulls are the preference, a few years ago a Belgian Blue bull was used to put some hybrid vigour and shape into the breeding cows which worked well with calves easily hitting the Scotbeef specification targets.
As members of the Beef Efficiency Scheme (BES) the Frames have invested in scales and the plan this winter is to weigh the cows and work out the kilos of beef produced per cow’s bodyweight.
“I find the data and feedback which is available now very interesting and it allows us to benchmark against other farms and see trends within our own herd,” said Douglas Frame.
He added: “The beef industry is so far behind the dairy industry in terms of adopting technology, I see the BES as a step in the right direction.”
Despite of the uncertainty many farmers are feeling about the affect Brexit will have on Scottish agriculture, Douglas is confident in the future for beef farming. He said: “Maybe I am young and naïve but I believe the world needs fed and the quality of Scotch Beef is what marks us apart from the rest of the world.”