7th November 2013

Scotch Beef Farm of the Year Finalists Display Drive and Determination

The determination and drive of the beef producers running the three farms which have been selected as finalists in this year’s Scotch Beef Farm of the Year, augers well for the future of the Scottish industry, according to the assessors who visited the farms.

The three finalists were unveiled today (Thursday 7th November) by AgriScot and Quality Meat Scotland following a three month search for Scotland’s top beef farm launched in July this year. The finalist farms are based in Lanarkshire, Aberdeenshire and Orkney and represent three very different types of beef systems.

However, while the farm types are quite different, the three businesses share an impressive commitment to continue to grow and steadily improve their efficiency and performance, while reducing costs and improving herd health and animal welfare.

The finalists are: Calla Farm, near Carnwath in Lanarkshire, run by David Baillie in partnership with his son, also David; Brownhill Farm at Auchnagatt, Aberdeenshire, run by Thomson Wilson and his son Michael; and Netherton Farm, Holm, Orkney, run by Alistair Foubister in partnership with his wife Anne.

The aim of the Scotch Beef Farm of the Year Award 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.

AgriScot and QMS work together to deliver the award which will see the winner receive a £500 cheque. The winner will also receive a £250 voucher to celebrate their success at a Scotch Beef Club restaurant. The club, run by QMS, has around 300 members committed to serving top quality Scotch Beef.  The overall winner will be revealed at AgriScot on November 20th at Ingliston which last year attracted more than 9000 attendees.

John Elliot, award co-ordinator, and Jim McLaren, Chairman of Quality Meat Scotland, visited the trio of finalist farms last week to evaluate them.

“The award has gathered further momentum this year and we have been greatly encouraged by the quality of the farms involved in the process,” said Andrew Moir, AgriScot chairman. “It is important that AgriScot showcases the best in Scottish beef production and we are delighted that we have the opportunity to recognise the commercial skills and forward thinking approach that the finalists have demonstrated.”

Jim McLaren added: “What we saw during our visits to the three farms was a very encouraging drive to keep looking at ways to improve their efficiency. Our impression was of a real depth of knowledge and dedication as well as total conviction to continue to improve their businesses and benefit from the opportunities which lie ahead for our industry.”

During last week’s visit to the three farms the assessors were looking 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.

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.

Some background information on the three finalist farms follows:

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.

Netherton Farm on Orkney is a 340 acre unit, run by Alistair Foubister and his wife Anne, running 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 sold fat.  Alister Foubister has been steadily increasing the number of cattle he sells each year, from 79 in 2009 to 106 in 2012.

One major investment, which is now reaping rewards, was the erection of a new modern building to house the cattle. The aim of the 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 profitability of the business has steadily increased since the completion of the new building which also has CCTV cameras installed to help with observation during the calving period. The family take 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, having installed solar panels onto the farmhouse and a number of other renewable options are being investigated.

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.



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