26th November 2014

Thornhill farmer showcases farm strengths

Making best use of upland resources is the theme for a free Planning for Profit meeting at David Kirkpatrick's Auchenbainzie Farm in Thornhill next week, when much of the discussion is likely to revolve around the recent CAP reform and how hill farms in Scotland will be affected.

Planning for Profit is an initiative aimed at assisting cattle, sheep and mixed arable farmers to make decisions that will ensure they are well placed to operate profitably in the face of reduced CAP support. The initiative is supported by the Scottish Government Skills Development Scheme, Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) and NFUS, and delivered by SAOS, SAC Consulting and 2 Mennie Cooks.  Meetings are being held all over Scotland and this one has been facilitated by Rhidian Jones of SRUC.

Mr Kirkpatrick has already made steps over the last ten years to reduce costs and to improve efficiency and profitability within the dairy, cattle and sheep enterprises on his 2000 acre unit in the Nith Valley, Thornhill, Dumfries.

About ten years ago he carried out a whole farm review, with the result that he increased the milking cows by 70 to 190 and reduced the suckler herd from 300 to 115. He said: "We decided to utilise the best low ground land for milking cows and use the 1000 acres of hill for youngstock and dry cows, which meant reducing beef cow numbers."

Around the same time, following a visit to the USA, Mr Kirkpatrick introduced Stabiliser cows which are out-wintered, therefore stocking rates are not so high but returns per cow have improved dramatically to average £641 per cow in 2013/14. He said: "I was impressed with the Stabilisers I saw in Montana, they combine the thriftiness of our hardy native breeds with the productivity of continentals."

In his pursuit of better margins, Mr Kirkpatrick tried many ways to reduce costs but said that by far the most effective was out-wintering cattle. The cows go out to the hill after weaning in October and receive no extra forage or concentrate until March when they are fed with a snacker, through calving in April before coming onto some better grazing in May to be synchronised and bulled through the summer. This system has seen an average 93% of calves reared over the last three years.

Another advantage of the Stabiliser is that the heifer calves are in demand for breeding and those not kept for replacements are sold as bulling heifers at 12 to 14 months for a premium price. Last year they averaged £1300.

Most of the bull calves are sold at weaning in October when they average 273 kg liveweight to a finishing unit in Yorkshire for the Morrisons Beef Scheme. However 15 to 20 of those with potential for breeding are kept and either sold as stock bulls at 14 months old for an average of £5000 or finished and sold deadweight.

The low-cost, easy-care system Mr Kirkpatrick employs for his cattle is equally effective in his sheep flock. During the farm review he changed from traditional Scotch Mule production to running 2000 Lleyn ewes on the farm. This includes ewe lambs which are put to a Shetland tup for easy lambing, while some of the ewes are tupped by Lleyn rams for replacements. They all lamb outdoors in April and progeny is sold on a deadweight basis through Lawrie and Symington to Veivers and Dunbia. Average weights and grades are 19kg at R3L.

By changing the sheep system, Mr Kirkpatrick said: "Costs and labour have been enormously reduced but the end value not so much." For a number of years now, he has been using New Zealand Suffolk cross Texel rams on the majority of the flock, which he sources in Shropshire, and pointed out that they are much more vigorous than home-bred lambs, easily tupping 100 ewes each per season.

The whole set-up of dairy, beef and sheep farming is run with the help of just three men thanks to the efficient integration of the three units with the best use of the lowland and upland grass available.

Mr Kirkpatrick is looking forward to the meeting next week when he hopes to hear from the other farmers who attend, their thoughts on suckler cow production

To attend the Planning For Profit meeting and find out more about the beef and sheep enterprises at Auchenbainzie on 3rd December at 10.30am please contact Kirsty at QMS on 0131 4724040 or email info@qmscotland.co.uk 

Sign up for the latest news and views