Fact file

Doldy Farms, Eastmill, Glenisla, Perthshire

2500 acres LFA inc 600 acres in-bye

140 suckler cows, inc 24 pedigree Beef Shorthorn breeding cows

1000 Blackface ewes

Introducing Beef Shorthorn to a Sim Lim suckler herd is providing a solution for Doldy Farms’ farm manager, Pamela Nicol. “My objective is to produce easy fleshing, quality weaned calves off a low input, low cost forage-based system with minimal concentrate supplement and developing this three-way cross cow is giving us an opportunity to do just that – we are achieving maximum output from minimal input.

“Beef Shorthorn Sim Lim cows currently make up 30% of the herd, they are robust, easy calving – 99% calve themselves; 75% calve within the first nine weeks, they have plenty of milk and are rearing 94% calves, and they have good udders which makes for longevity – they are lasting for 10 to 12 calf crops compared with the continental cows nine to 10 crops,” she explains.

“Beef Shorthorn brings extreme docility into the herd which is vital to me since these days there are less people on the ground. The ability to work with these cattle with minimal fuss is a key feature as to why this breed was selected for Doldy Farms."

Calves are reared on milk and grass with minimal concentrate supplement. They are weaned in November at an average nine months and 330kg,and all steers and those heifers not retained for replacement purposes go straight to Stirling on the same day.

Notably, the Beef Shorthorn crosses now have a better value in the store ring thanks to the Morrisons Shorthorn Beef Scheme which is raising awareness that they can efficiently finish.

“We used to buy in replacements, however for health reasons in 2003 we decided to close the herd and breed all our own. We currently keep about 40% Beef Shorthorn crosses as replacements. These heifers are reaching 450kg at 12 to 13 months, I’m calving them at 24 months to the Beef Shorthorn bull, the calves just pop out and they are achieving 98% calves reared.”

Doldy Farms is a typical hard hill unit running between 800-1250ft. The herd grazes in-bye until late-January before being housed, breeding females are over wintered solely on home produced silage, and turned out once the grass starts growing in mid-May on to a rotational grazing system. A reseeding programme - a 10-year mix including plantain has also been introduced with soil testing every five years to keep the ground in better health.

“Whilst I’m very focused on improving the in-bye grassland, the grazing season is short, however, if in future we need to further drive down costs, then there is potential here to save on all bought in straw and outwinter the entire herd. The Beef Shorthorn has introduced that essential hardiness to our cows and I could quite quickly step up the breed’s influence with the three-way cross making up 100% of the herd.”

Fourteen years ago, Pamela succeeded her father, David Nicol who retired after spending a lifetime career at Doldy. “I was 32-years-old, and taking over as farm manger was a pretty daunting experience,” she says. Today she is managing the two units, Doldy and neighbouring Eastmill.

It was David Nicol who was initially inspired to introduce Beef Shorthorn to Eastmill after Doldy Farms’ owner, James Ivory invested in the second unit in the early 1990s, and a new suckler enterprise was established.

“Dad eventually settled for a Lim Sim suckler, however he felt he wanted a cow that was more robust, easier fleshing, could calve outside, withstand any weather and depend totally on forage. Beef Shorthorn entered the frame in 2005, the breed fitted the bill then, and it’s here to stay.”

Pamela found herself not only taking over the three-way cross suckler herd, but also introducing a pedigree Beef Shorthorn herd.

“I’ve always been involved in pedigree livestock of some sort and given the opportunity to buy Beef Shorthorn, I had a notion a pedigree herd would do well here,” she explains. Eleven years ago, she established the Eastmill herd with help and advice from former assistant manager, Scott Marshall, initially investing in a Dunsyre bred cow with heifer calf at foot, after which foundation females followed in rapid succession from Glengoy, Lowther, Ballylinney and Maralin.

“These females soon proved to be good and solid producing a quality calf with minimum input,” she says and the rest is history. “I’m looking to breed a medium sized cow in the 650kg to 700kg bracket with a little bit of shape and weaning a nine-month-old calf at least 50% her body weight - Eastmill calves are achieving an average 350kg to 400kg. She must calve by herself, be correct on her legs and demonstrate easy fleshing. Good udders are a must, otherwise she is down the road,” she explains.

“I’m continually seeking to improve the Eastmill herd selecting sire and replacement heifers within the top 10% for maternal trait EBVs ideally. My 2018 crop of heifers averaged SRI +26, and 2019 crop SRI +28. And to get to where I want to be, I am always striving to do something different; I think it’s worthwhile introducing new genetics to the UK - an outcross to extend what is a relatively small national genetic pool, it was an idea suggested by Scott Marshall. For example, my current stock sire is Fearn Josh an ET by the Australian Kevlyn Downs Embassy, and selected in particular for early growth and easy fleshing.

“Pedigree breeding provides me with the opportunity to use homebred bulls in the commercial suckler herd; I can test my own genetics and also eliminate the risk of buying in disease.”

Pamela is equally focused on breeding bulls for the pedigree sector. “So far, I’ve sold to 7000gns with Eastmill Lord leading the trade in Stirling May 2019, however I set the bar the previous year when I privately sold my Royal Highland entry, Eastmill Laird, by the US sire, HC Free Spirit 6Y to Cowford Farm; Laird is now within the breed’s top 10%.”

The show ring is also among her passions. “I really enjoy showing – it provides a great opportunity to showcase the breed, and I found fellow Beef Shorthorn exhibitors to be so welcoming, they very quickly included me on the circuit. I’m now in my ninth show season and whilst I’m always happy to bring home a ticket, it was a great thrill to land the championship at both Angus and Alyth and I’ve always been lucky enough to be in the final line up at the Royal Highland.”

To the future, Pamela says: “Doldy Farms solely depends on farming for its income, there are no diversification opportunities and environmental schemes are very, very challenging to enter. It’s a case of working to the strengths of the unit, maintaining a happy balance and potentially getting more out of the grass. That’s where low input Beef Shorthorn already plays an important part in our strategy and offers the potential for a significantly bigger role.”