The Aberdeen-Angus is renowned for being one of the leading breeds of premium breeding cattle, as well as producing top quality prime beef – and that's certainly the case for Brechin-based farmer, Bruce Christie.

Responsible for the management of 32,000 acres of ground – ranging from 50 feet to 3000 feet above sea level – farm manager, Bruce, certainly has his hands full with many different responsibilities. Since moving to Burghill Farm, in 1999, which falls under the Dalhousie Estate management team, Mr Christie has made some big changes, which he believes has benefited the entire enterprise for the better.

"Before the move into Aberdeen-Angus, the cattle enterprise comprised of 300 head of continental breeds, which included Charolais, Limousin and Simmental crosses, which required a high input of labour, money and time so I decided to simplify the system," said Bruce.

In 2000, he made the decision to purchase some pure-bred Aberdeen-Angus bulling heifers from Rognvald Sinclair's Unigarth herd, in Orkney, and continued with this for the following two years.

By 2006, the Angus herd had hit 100 head of cattle, by which time, the entire continental herd had been sold, leaving Bruce to solely concentrate on this new angle.

"The Aberdeen-Angus is an easy-care breed and compliments our arable system perfectly. The type of grassland ground we have is quite gravelly and unsuitable for cropping. The Angus utilise that ground brilliantly and they can be out-wintered on it, unlike the continentals, which needed to be housed," commented Bruce.

"Calving is generally easier with the Angus too – we rarely have to intervene or assist and they can be calved outside in the spring. The calves are also vigorous and they just get up, and get on with suckling, whereas some of the continentals were quite slow to get up, so there was a lot more input required."

The Burghill herd is now comprised of 110 head of Angus cattle, of which 60% are pedigree registered, with the rest being pure-bred but not in the herd book. After the initial purchase of breeding stock, the Angus are now run as a closed herd. This has been the case for 10 years, with Bruce now in a position of producing his own replacement heifers and bulls.

"We retain 20 of the biggest females out of around 50 each year as replacements and finish the rest," he commented. "When picking bulls to keep, I'm looking for size and good growth weights, ease of calving and good temperament. They also need to have a good top and back for beef production."

There have been a variety of bought-in bulls that have made their mark on the herd. These include two from the Wedderly herd and one from the Fordel herd, as well as the well-known Blelack Prince Consort – which was bred by the Massie family, at Dinnet, in Aberdeenshire – which has sired some of Bruce's best bulls, through the process of AI. One of those is Burghill Patrick, which has also made a positive mark on the Burghill herd after being used at home.

Running under the Beef Efficiency Scheme, which is aimed at driving efficiency in beef herds whilst lowering their greenhouse gas emissions, Bruce's herd is producing high quality store and finishing cattle, all of which are sold deadweight to Scotbeef for the Marks and Spencers' scheme.

In a typical year, Bruce can be selling fat cattle from November through to March, with the aim of having steers away at 20 months-old and heifers at 22 months. "On average, we aim for heifers to be 300kg carcase weight, and steers at 330kg carcase when sent away," Bruce said.

"The premium varies year on year and I prefer to sell on a deadweight basis straight to Scotbeef, as this takes away the uncertainty around the price that we receive . This way I know what I'm going to be receiving, whereas it's more of a gamble at the market."

Since the move into the breed, overall input costs for the herd are down dramatically, due to the lack of housing and labour requirements, he pointed out.

"We don't use diet feeders or straw bedders as the cows are out-wintered and the other machines that are used in the feeding operations are required for the arable enterprise anyway, so we have no machinery depreciation costs directly attributed to the cows. As is the case for labour."

The farm currently takes part in AECS (Agri-Environment Climate Scheme), one aspect of which is that grass margins around all arable fields have have to be cut and toppings removed. Faced with the dilemma of what to do with these grass toppings, the Aberdeen-Angus provided a solution.

"Initially, we didn't know what we were going to do with the toppings. However, we had the idea of cutting and baling the margins for silage. It's grass that we can utilise, even though it is of average quality, but it is good enough for the cows," he commented.

The grass is baled as a one-pass operation by a contractor, with a mower on the front of the tractor and a baler following behind. This produces around 300 bales which would otherwise have been a waste product.

Store and finishing cattle are fed good quality silage off of rotational grass, whereas the cows are given the poorer grass margin silage, as well as straw.

"The advantage of our system is that we can adapt the concentrates fed year on year. If we can sell malting barley at high price, we can buy back compound feeding. However, if we can't, then the system is changed and we feed bruised barley and a protein concentrate," he said.

The cattle are important on the farm as they make the most of acres that can't be cropped to much benefit, however the primary enterprise remains arable cropping of 800 ha, producing a range of crops including barley, peas, potatoes, carrots, winter wheat and oilseed rape. But, as well as the crop, there is also 200 ha of rotational grazing ground – which is mainly for silage and grazing, while Bruce also runs a flock of 1500 Swaledale cross Blackface ewes on the hill ground.

Like the cattle, the sheep are a closed flock, with the aim of breeding their own replacements from an out-wintered flock on hill ground, which includes a Munro. These hard acres total 30,000 acres in size.

"The sheep suit the hill environment and complement the moorland management. It's all about ensuring you make the best of what you have," added Bruce. "With the Swaledale crosses, we hope to have a lambing percentage of 115-120%, and they seem to produce hardy lambs that survive, even in the poorest of conditions."

Commenting on the future of the Aberdeen-Angus breed, Bruce concluded: "The Angus has become a more popular breed since I started working with them. They have worked well with us and will do for anyone else that has a large extensive farming system as we do.

"Of course, there will be other breeds that will have the same claims and there is a worry regarding beef prices, but I believe the future is looking bright for the breed – as long as there's a premium, breeders will buy into it."