Record prices paid for store and finishing cattle have been cancelled out this year with ongoing soaring input costs leaving many in the industry with big decisions to make to justify farming.

The Scottish Farmer: The aim is to have calves that are constant throughout the batch, to which enables them to be sold in lots of 4-10 Ref:RH140422009  Rob Haining / The Scottish Farmer...

Aiming to produce a strong calf for the store ring is the main ambition for two brothers, Mark and Michael Ross, along with the help of their father, Douglas, who run a herd of 350 crossbred commercial cows which are split between two herds: 215 autumn calvers and 135 spring calvers, all across 1000 acres at Wester Middleton, Gorebridge, with the additional help and support from their nephew, Ben McSporran, during busy periods.

The Scottish Farmer: Charolais calves are 12-14 months of age  and sold through United Auctions  Ref:RH140422010  Rob Haining / The Scottish Farmer...

“We want to continue farming and make a living for the next generation, therefore, we need to continually review how we do things so that we are progressively moving forward and reducing costs to improve efficiency without diminishing quality,” said Mark, who sells the majority of calves store, with all Charolais calves sold through the store ring.

The Scottish Farmer: The teams aim at Wester Middleton is to produce a strong calf suitable for the store ring  Ref:RH140422006  Rob Haining / The Scottish Farmer...

“We strive to achieve consistency throughout our Charolais calves to enable us to sell in larger pens of four to 10, which allows us to predominantly retain the same customers year on year and sell cattle with a larger daily live weight gain, hopefully leading to a greater price,” said Mark who sells around 115 Charolais calves at 12-14 months of age through United Auctions, Stirling.

The Scottish Farmer: Two of the Charolais female Roscoe Pepsi and Milkshake Ref:RH140422011  Rob Haining / The Scottish Farmer...

In September 2021, bullocks and heifers weighed an average of 490kg, bringing home an average of £1298.43.

The other breeds on the farm also do well for the team with the Aberdeen-Angus bullocks heading to Harrison and Hetherington at St Boswells with last year’s batch of 54 averaging 525kg and cashing in at £1277. The best Angus heifer calves are kept for breeding and those that don’t make the grade are fattened either through the live ring or sold through ScotBeef.

The Scottish Farmer: 2021 born Roscoe Showmethemoney and his dam Roscoe Pepsi Ref:RH140422021  Rob Haining / The Scottish Farmer...

“Our Angus bullocks have always performed well at St Boswells. I try to retain the majority of my Aberdeen-Angus cows as they give me some of my heaviest and strongest Charolais calves.”

“However, more recently I have found it harder to buy new blood lines, which is why we are now going to try the Limousin bull to breed the ultimate cow. It is also becoming harder to buy replacement heifers,” added Mark, with the herd being ccredited with everything vaccinated for BVD and Lepto.

The Scottish Farmer: Charolais calves are 12-14 months of age  and sold through United Auctions   Ref:RH140422008  Rob Haining / The Scottish Farmer...

“Every calf that comes in is BVD tested” said Mark, who tends to buy in 20-30 heifers privately every year just to build the herd numbers. The team run five or six Charolais bulls throughout to cover their cows.

“Finding a bull that suits our system is not easy and buying that bull is even harder. The first thing I look at is the bull itself, it needs to have a good carcase but overall, it must catch your eye, be fleshy and stylish with length, power and shape,” said Mark, who tends to buy the majority of his bulls from the main society sales at Carlisle and Stirling.

The Scottish Farmer: The Wester Middleton herd consist of 350 crossbred commercial cows which are split between 215 autumn calvers and 135 spring calvers  Ref:RH140422022  Rob Haining / The Scottish Farmer...

“All of our bulls have performed well for us, with a few standouts, namely Kersknowe Iron, having made a real stamp in the herd.”

Balmyle Elwood is another bull that has bred well for the herd, so much so that Mark has taken 750 straws from him. Mark has trained in Artificial Insemination, which saves on additional cost and gives him more flexibility.

Mark selects his bulls and females carefully, emphasising that, “Both the cow and bull have got to be right in the equation to make an exceptional calf. I individually select cows for my current stock bulls, knowing which attributes to pair to make the best calf.”

The Scottish Farmer: some of the commercial cattle eat the home grown pit silage  Ref:RH140422023  Rob Haining / The Scottish Farmer...

“Figures are not the be all and end all. I believe that you need to look at the animal and the blood-lines first during selection decisions. The way that bulls now have to be fed to look presentable for sales is impacting on their fertility and mobility. This is why I have gone down the route of trying to breed some of my own bulls to allow me to breed something that I am unable to buy, as well as giving me more flexibility,” said Mark who runs a small herd of Charolais females.

The two foundation females were purchased from Duncan Semple of Dippen, one of which had a great breeding line, Carradale Vixen, which all the current pure cows relate back to.

The Scottish Farmer: New mixer wagon which is a new investment helping to become more efficient Ref:RH140422026  Rob Haining / The Scottish Farmer...

In February this year Mark had his best sale to date when his bull, Roscoe Rumble hit the magic five figure price of 10,000gns at Stirling.

“It is always good to see our stock going on to do well but unfortunately, we do not have the time to show now a days due to the time commitment. I have always said it takes one thing to produce a show calf but bringing one out is a whole different game,” said Mark.

The family will also be part of the World Charolais Congress this July, which is set to welcome delegates from worldwide to visit Wester Middleton.

The Scottish Farmer: Home to the Ross family since the  1950s Ref:RH140422028  Rob Haining / The Scottish Farmer...

“I think agreeing to be part of this is an exciting time, I enjoy having people looking around our stock. I am looking forward to welcoming everyone in July although getting the farm ready has already aged me five years” joked Mark.

On the calving front, the 215 autumn calvers will go to the bull outside for three weeks with calving taking place outside in August, before coming inside at the end of November. The cows run with the bull for 12 weeks.

This herd are grazed on the hill prior to calving, which is 1.5miles away from the farm and rises to 1250ft above sea level.

Spring calvers will be weaned early November and will not come into the sheds until mid-December.

“There are pros and cons to both spring and autumn calving, but both work our system well and allow us to be able to carry more cows. The spring cows, prior to calving are easier managed due to being inside, however, this also comes at the extra cost of straw," said Mark, with cows inside being fed a mix of straw, blend and barley until they go outside, which they try to do as early as possible to reduce disease.

“The diet is essential to getting the cow in the right condition for calving. We want them fit not fat, so we need to be able to manage this effectively,” said Mark, with the autumn calvers being fed pit silage and 1.5kgs of barley through their new mixer wagon which is a new investment helping Mark to become more efficient.

Mark left school at the age of 15 years old when the farm ran just 125 cows. Between the two brothers, they have increased the herd size leading them to make a huge investment recently into a new slatted shed, which is set to hold 200 cows and calves.

The Scottish Farmer: Roscoe Popadom and Basset Piper, Wester Middleton run five or six bulls to cover the cows    Ref:RH140422014  Rob Haining / The Scottish Farmer...

“We are hoping that we will have it up and running this year as we were tight for space this winter.”

“The shed is another example of how we are building efficiency and investing in the future. Through time it will allow us to rely on our own manure as opposed to buying in as much fertiliser and straw, which has taken a drastic jump this year.

“Fuel is the next big problem, it is currently cheaper for us to go to the local petrol pump as opposed to getting fuel delivered in bulk on the farm, which is a first. All costs are rising, and it is going to hit the industry hard. Prices have been increasing slightly for our produce, but not in relation to the level of inputs and cost”.

“It is going to be tough for a lot of farmers and the workforce is not there either. We need to find new ways to attract people into the industry, making improvements to ways of working and efficiencies to ensure we are sustainable” said Mark.

“The way costs are going we need to tighten our margins somewhere, however I do still believe there is a strong future in the industry. Ask 100 people and you might get a different answer to that. People are always going to need fed and that is our bottom line, however the gap between farmers and the public perception is widening, they have no understanding about what it takes to put food on the table and where it comes from.”

“Farmers cannot reduce this gap alone and we need the government and the public to support their local farmer,” concluded Mark.

Farm facts

Livestock numbers: 350 cows – calving 215 in autumn and 135 in the spring.

Acres: 1000 acres at Wester Middleton, with a further 600 rented.

History: Grandfather bought Wester Middleton in the 1950s, and the two brothers have built the numbers up since leaving school.

On the spot questions

Best investment: Cattle handling system.

Best advice: Have an understanding partner because your time is limited. The good days are very rewarding, which make the bad days’ worth it.

Biggest achievement: My family and three children Issy (11), Campbell (9) and Murdo (7)

Where do you see yourself in 2032: Hopefully still farming and watching my kids grow up.