An Orkney farm was today (Wednesday 20th November) unveiled as the 2013 Scotch Beef Farm of the Year.
Netherton Farm, Holm, a 340 acre farm run by Alistair Foubister in partnership with his wife Anne, was announced as the overall winner by Rural Affairs Secretary, Richard Lochhead during a presentation at AgriScot.
The aim of the annual Award, run by AgriScot and Quality Meat Scotland (QMS), is to showcase excellence in the production of cattle in Scotland and raise the profile of the dedication and stock management skills behind the production of Scotch Beef.
The other two finalists were: Calla Farm, near Carnwath in Lanarkshire, run by David Baillie in partnership with his son, also David and Brownhill Farm at Auchnagatt, Aberdeenshire, run by Thomson Wilson and his son Michael.Mr Lochhead said: “I’m delighted to announce Netherton as the Scotch Beef Farm of the Year for 2013 and congratulate Alistair and Anne Foubister and family on this achievement. Their dedication, and those of their fellow finalists, is to be highly commended.
“Scotch Beef is one of Scotland’s most iconic products, recognised and cherished around the world. There is a global appetite for our product and, with international markets opening up, we now have the opportunity to bring Scotch Beef to new markets and expand the brand. The hard work of our top beef producers, like today’s finalists, shows what is possible across the sector and I would encourage every beef farmer in Scotland to follow their lead.”John Elliot, award co-ordinator, and Jim McLaren, Chairman of Quality Meat Scotland, visited the trio of finalist farms and looked for: evidence of a high standard of technical and financial performance; uptake of new ideas to improve efficiency/profitability; a high level of health and welfare; and a keen eye on the market for the end product. The assessors were also looking to gauge the passion and enthusiasm of the farmer, and family and staff where relevant, to efficiently produce high quality animals.
“On all three farms we were hugely encouraged by the enthusiasm of the finalists to looking at ways to improve efficiency and we were also impressed by the depth of knowledge and dedication shown by the farmers,” said Jim McLaren.
“What made Netherton stand out was the total commitment, shown by the Foubister family, and their sheer passion for the job they do. They are 100 per cent committed to continuously raising the bar on their cattle management and increasing the number of animals they sell,” added Mr McLaren.
Andrew Moir, AgriScot chairman, said: “The three finalist farm types were very different but each of the businesses shares an impressive commitment to growing and developing its efficiency and performance.
“AgriScot continues to make showcasing the best of Scottish beef production a priority and our congratulations go to the Foubisters and, indeed all of the finalists, for the commercial skills and forward thinking approach they demonstrate.”
Netherton runs 120 suckler cows which are mainly Aberdeen Angus cross. Replacement stock are home-bred with steer calves sold at a year old and the remainder sold store or finished at 16 – 18 months old. Some heifers are retained as replacements, with the remainder finished. The Foubisters have been steadily increasing the number of cattle they sell each year, from 79 in 2009 to 106 in 2012.
One major investment by the business, which is now reaping rewards, was the erection of a new modern building to house the cattle. The aim of this project was to improve the farm’s efficiency enabling a reduction in labour costs while, at the same time, allowing stock numbers to be increased.
The decision has proved successful and the profitability of the business has steadily increased since the completion of the new building which features CCTV cameras to help with observation during the calving period.
The family takes great care with their bull selection believing bulls play a huge part in the quality of the herd and the quality of their replacement stock. Cattle health is another priority on the farm, with cattle being vaccinated for BVD and pneumonia and tested annually for Johne’s. The farm also blood tests for Liver Fluke.
The Foubisters have also taken a keen interest in renewable energy and have installed solar panels on the farmhouse and a number of other renewable options are currently being investigated.
Alistair Foubister said he was surprised and delighted to have won the award.
“It is really a great result for Orkney and recognition of all the cattle producers there who work very hard to produce great beef, often in very challenging conditions,” he said.
All farms producing cattle destined to be used for meat sold under the Scotch Beef label – from breeders through to finishers - were eligible to apply for the award and accordingly they were also required to be members of Quality Meat Scotland’s farm assurance scheme.
Notes to editor: Background information on the other two finalist farms:
Calla Farm in Lanarkshire is a 650 hectare (1606 acre) unit, run in partnership by David Baillie and his father, also David which runs 130 Limousin cross suckler cows and 30 pedigree Limousin cows. All heifers are calved at two-and-a-half years old and male calves are castrated. Three Limousin bulls and one Shorthorn are used and the cows are equally divided between spring calving and summer calving, following a decision to move from end-autumn calving to late summer in consultation with the farm vet. This has resulted in improved calf health, with reduced pneumonia.
This year, only four cows and two heifers needed assistance with calving and the herd is closed to improve the health and longevity of the cows. The aim is to feed as much home-grown feed as possible and urea-treated wholecrop is proving very successful on the farm.
The Baillies are members of the Premium Cattle Health Scheme and the farm is BVD accredited. They have successfully reduced Johne’s and regularly review opportunities to improve herd health with their vet and they are also participating in a SAHPS pilot to improve health and productivity by identifying weaknesses in their system.
A high level of cleanliness in the cattle shed is also a priority and Mr Baillie feels this plays a major part in keeping pneumonia levels low as well as minimising scour and navel ill in the young calves. Calving period is kept very tight and, as a result, cattle are produced in very uniform batches, with almost 100% meeting buyer specification.
Brownhill Farm at Auchnagatt is a 1000 acre farm which finishes 1500 – 2000 cattle annually and is run in partnership by Thomson Wilson and his son, Michael. Store cattle are bought in from Orkney, Dingwall and Thainstone marts and the feeding regime, taking them through to finishing, is based on home-grown cereals. A new cattle handling system, designed and built by the Wilsons, is proving a major asset and the business has undertaken feed trials to monitor and improve feed conversion rates, rumen health and killing out percentage.
Cattle are grouped into batches of 90 and stay in these batches from arrival on-farm to slaughter. This has seen an increase in daily liveweight gain from 1.4kg/day to almost 1.8kg/day with improved cattle health. The farm’s target is to achieve a 1kg/day carcass weight gain and at present they are very close to this at 0.9kg/day.
The Wilsons work very closely with their processor procurement teams to get feedback on their cattle and animals for slaughter are selected regularly to ensure they don’t go overweight and outwith target specification. Electronic management tags were introduced with the new handling system and cattle are regularly weighed and performances recorded.
A team approach to delivering strong performance is a very important part of the success of the farm business with regular meetings, involving staff, undertaken with their vet and feed supplier.