Having only transferred over to the Beef Shorthorn breed five years ago, the McMillan family of Eskechraggan, Isle of Bute, have certainly made a name for themselves.

Father and son duo, both Tom, have previously always worked with continental cattle, but made the move to utilise the Shorthorns in their commercial herd in 2016.

The Scottish Farmer: Some of the strong Aberdeen-Angus calves in the commercial herdSome of the strong Aberdeen-Angus calves in the commercial herd

“We made the switch due to calving ease and feed efficiency, however another main reason being their temperament. The Shorthorns are docile you can walk through a field of them without a flinch. When I first bought them, I took a soft spot for them and I have never looked back,” said Tom, who purchased his first in-calf heifer, Millerston Gretta Honey in May 2016 at Carlisle for 2000gns, along with the bull, Blelack Magnum for 4200gns.

The Scottish Farmer: An overview of Eskechraggan An overview of Eskechraggan

Tom junior added: “Initially we were only buying a Beef Shorthorn bull at the sale to put over our suckler cows so we could begin to breed our own replacements and save us from buying in dairy genetics as it was bringing in too many diseases to our herd that we couldn’t afford to take the risk any longer.”

The Scottish Farmer: The stockbull, Westbroad Nadal with some of the pedigree Beef Shorthorn herdThe stockbull, Westbroad Nadal with some of the pedigree Beef Shorthorn herd

The family were running a mix of 90 Limousin and Limousin cross Friesian suckler herd, which is now run in adjacent to the 20 pedigree Beef Shorthorns.

The Scottish Farmer: Currently Eskechraggan is home to 21 Beef ShorthornsCurrently Eskechraggan is home to 21 Beef Shorthorns

Last year the McMillan’s also made the change of putting all their Beef Shorthorn cross heifers to the Aberdeen-Angus bull, Retties Excel, to produce Angus calves for an easier calving for the two-year-olds. The best of these heifer calves will be kept as replacements whilst the remainder will be fattened. The remaining Beef Shorthorn cross cows and Limousin cross cows will go to the Charolais or shorthorn bull for producing strong store cattle through the ring aiming for 380-400kg liveweight.

The Scottish Farmer: Another favoruite for the family is the Clydesdales Another favoruite for the family is the Clydesdales

“We previously sold everything store, however we managed to get some land at the south end of the Island, which is an excellent climate for growing barley. Now that we are able to grow more of our own crop it in turn means we can feed more to our cattle and get them away fat,” said Tom junior, with all fat cattle sold through John Scott averaging 380kg deadweight and aiming for the best of gradings.

The Scottish Farmer: All cows will calve in the spring aiming to be outsideAll cows will calve in the spring aiming to be outside

Calving takes place in the spring, trying to calve outside as much as possible if the weather allows. Although growing their own barley now, living on the Isle of Bute doesn’t make outgoings very easy, with feeding and fertiliser given additional prices.

The Scottish Farmer: One of Tom's favourite cow and calf outfits on the farmOne of Tom's favourite cow and calf outfits on the farm

“We will be paying around £30 per tonne between fuel and ferry costs to get feeding and fertiliser here, it doesn’t make farming easy, but it is something we have always had to make work. The farming subsides here is the only way to make it profitable,” said Tom.

The Scottish Farmer: Westbroad Nadal out with the 21 Beef Shorthorns Westbroad Nadal out with the 21 Beef Shorthorns

“If fertiliser prices continue to rise as much as they are saying they are, it will kill a lot of farmers off. No matter how good the trade is, the prices we receive cannot justify it.

Tom junior added: “We are lucky we have our own lorry transport, but for other islanders, there is the added haulage costs to cross the water. It all adds up when you are taking a lorry load of fat lambs over to the mainland.

All 400 lambs are sold fat through the live ring at Ayr Market, with 250 already away this year.

The Scottish Farmer: Tom moved to the Beef Shorthorns for calving ease and feed efficiencyTom moved to the Beef Shorthorns for calving ease and feed efficiency

“We hope to get all our lambs away by the end of the year. The lamb trade has held up and has continued to, so we don’t see the advantage of hitting that early market when we can get a good price all year round,” said Tom junior, with lambing taking place at the start of April.

Last year the family bought in Scotch Mule ewes with Texel lambs from Castle Douglas due to being short of sheep and having more grass than anticipated, keeping the ewe lambs for breeding.

Another big struggle is the labour, the family undertake all of their own work at the moment apart from dung spreading, baling and sowing barley which they rely on local contractors but aim to be as self-sufficient as they can.

The Scottish Farmer: One of Tom's favourite cow and calf outfits on the farmOne of Tom's favourite cow and calf outfits on the farm

The fifth generation - Lauren and Leigha- are just coming through, with Lauren studying for her Agriculture degree at the Barony Campus, Dumfries, having won the SRUC prize for best first year agriculture student across all campuses in 2019-20. Whilst Leigha is still in her fifth year at High School.

“Both are a great help when we can get them at home, we have been fortunate lockdown has kept them at home this last year,” explained Tom junior.

Tom senior’s daughters, Mairi and Donna both also lend a hand as much as possible, with Donna undertaking all the bookkeeping for the farm, whilst Mairi is keen on showing and driving the horses.

Showing has always been in the family blood for both beef cattle and Clydesdale horses, having won the Royal Highland Show in the 1960s on two occasions with the commercial cattle.

Following through the years, from Smithfield, to the Scottish Winter Fair, Ayr Show and of course the local, Bute Show, there has been various tickets and trophies bagged over the years – which you just need to take one look at Tom’s office to see the success!!!

The Scottish Farmer: The McMillan family (l-r) Tom junior, Leah, Lauren,?? and Tom with their Stars of the future entry, Eskechraggan Ringo The McMillan family (l-r) Tom junior, Leah, Lauren,?? and Tom with their Stars of the future entry, Eskechraggan Ringo

On the Clydesdale front the first big championship for Tom was in 1987 securing the Royal Highland Show male champion with Eskechraggan Perfection, and two years later winning the Cawdor cup with South Clutag Vanessa has been one of the biggest achievements at Eskechraggan.

“Showing is a great shop window for your stock and although it is a time-consuming effort from breaking your cattle, preparing your cattle and show day itself, it is all made worth it to meet like minded folk in the industry.

“We will always continue to show as long as we can if the right beast is about,” said Tom, with the help from pre-show prep duo, Richard and Carol Rettie, on call!

This year’s Stars of the Future entry, Eskechraggan Ringo is a January born bull calf, and is backed by the best of breeding being sired by Blelack Magnum and out of the show star, Trowbridge Tessa Lindsay. Having previously stood Beef Shorthorn champion with Eskechraggan Masterstroke, at the event in Stirling in 2019, Ringo has big boots to fill.

Trowbridge Tessa Linsay needs little introduction in the showing circuit, having done the rounds in 2019 securing championships at Stirling Show, Royal Highland Show, Great Yorkshire Show and Bute Show – for the first year of showing Beef Shorthorns the McMillan’s started high, also securing the Scottish Farmers’ Champion of the Decade award.

This now four-year-old cow was bought from the Trowbridge dispersal in 2017 as a calf with her dam, Knockenjig Tessa for £3600.

Since Linsay has made such a stamp on the herd already, her dam was flushed this year for embryo work for the first time.

“She is one that we can’t let get away from us, so we wanted to get as much out of her as we can. Time will tell if it has been worthwhile when we get some calves on the ground,” said Tom, who is increasing the Shorthorn numbers every year, with six in-calf heifers this year.

Tom junior added: “Although we are in the middle of the transfer over to the native cattle, we don’t anticipate many more changes in the future now, we have found our system that works well and moving to the Shorthorn has been part of that.

Farm facts

Involved: It is a very much family affair with the fifth generation coming through.

History: The McMillan family have now secured the tenant of Eskechraggan for the past 100 years.

Livestock: 21 Beef Shorthorns; 90 suckler cow herd; sheep front – 200 cross breeding ewes, 50 hoggs and three Blue Texels.

Acres: 400 acres along with an additional 100 acres including 60 acres on the south of the island for growing grain.

On The Spot Questions

Best investment: Trowbridge Tessa Linsay and her dam Knockenjig Tessa

Biggest achievement: Linsay, it was just a summer we will never forget! Winning the winter fair in 1985 with Highland Laddie and securing the Cawdor cup in 1989 will always be up there as well!

Any hobbies: I do enjoy fixing up the odd vintage tractor!

Best thing about the show ring: Although it is a brilliant shop window to show off your stock, it is all about the atmosphere and meeting like minded folk in the industry. We look forward to the Royal Highland Show every year.