Producing top quality suckled calves with superior shape and style to suit the general market and for the usually fussier High Street butcher trade, is the name of the game for commercial breeder and show enthusiast, James Nisbet, Ochiltree, Ayrshire.

“We need to concentrate on what the end product is intended for and that cattle going into abattoirs should also be reflected in the show cattle we produce. Classy calves should not take away from this essential in being an all-round commercial type for all purposes,” said James.

James runs 480 breeding cows and 1300 breeding ewes in Ayrshire, over 1100 acres across two farms – Sorn and Orchardton, with the help from George Mabon and Martin Lawson. The Black Limousin and Aberdeen-Angus cows he keeps are crossed with a Charolais bull to produce good lengthy, shapey and well fleshed animals. James and his wife, Jamie, have also recently been short listed for the AgriScot ‘Sheep Farmer of the Year’ with their Scotch Mules and Suffolk Mules that are run to produce strong fat lambs ¬– so producing quality across the board runs deep in the family business.

Jamie works part time in the local vet centre, with the rest of her time spent on the farm, alongside their two children ¬– Sienna (10) and Jai (7) ¬– who have also a keen interest in the farm. Sienna was reserve champion in the young handlers at the Royal Highland this year and both have been competing in many competitions throughout the year, reflecting their interest.

With LiveScot just around the corner, the Nisbets are busy getting three entries ready for the big day – two commercials and one British Blue – which have been out most of the summer.

You might be wondering why the Nisbets have a British Blue? This year James purchased a British Blue embryo as a one-off and the result of this is Nisbet One and Only, a January-born heifer sired by Boothlow Dynamo and out of Netherdale Edge. She took first prize in her class at Agri-Expo recently and the same ticket at Stars of the Future.

Of the commercials, Just A Flirt is a daughter of Lodge Hamlet and was purchased in Brecon, in February, from Rob Jones. She has already had a successful summer, being reserve champion at Ayr Show, second at the Great Yorkshire and third at Agri-expo.

Another purchase from Brecon, this time from Dia Brute was the steer, Made You Look. He is a son of Goldies Oslo and previously has taken a third at both the Royal Highland and the Great Yorkshire.

James will be competing at his 20th Live Scot this year, having previously produced the best steer twice, the reserve bullock twice and ‘Housewives’ Choice’ once. He’s keen to point out that there’s a strong trade for cattle sold at the event: “Usually the trade is consistent, with plenty of butchers looking to buy and there is also a strong market for breeding heifers with the potential to breed future champions, but there’s usually strong entries throughout the show.”

For the past four years, though, he has also exhibited at the Welsh Winter Fair, and this is where he usually goes on to sell at the end of his particular show season. James has always had a strong interest in showing his cattle as he believes it is great publicity for his business and it is always a time to get caught up with people and socialise.

He exhibits at many local shows, with his biggest local being Ayr Show, where he has taken champion three or four times, and this year he was reserve in the commercials. The Royal Highland is always another big one and he has been steer champion five times and reserve overall twice. Bolstered by this success, he also decided to go down to the Great Yorkshire just the last couple of years taking first, second and third prize tickets.

Most of these prize winners have been from bought in commercials. “It is so hard to find a good winning commercial calf, let alone breed one. I now need to go further afield to try and find one, which has proved difficult. I can never breed what I want to buy and while there are a few quality calves in Scotland now, there is also an increasing number of enthusiasts wanting to buy them to show,” pointed out James.

He’s worried that prices might have risen too much for people to get involved and that this will start putting people off, especially Young Farmers. That’s an argument backed by the fact that Ayrshire rally calves, for instance, have decreased in numbers over the last decade. The cost to keep them are unjustifiable, especially when buying them in and trying to make a profit on them, he argued.

James also believed that the weather is having a huge impact on farming. In Ayrshire, springs are getting later and longer, so when the time comes to do everything, there is only a small window to get all the cattle ready for the show season, as well as taking care of all the other necessary jobs on the farm.

All of the commercial cattle he sells are sold through United Auctions, from October to February as store calves. Steers usually weigh around 320-360kg whilst heifers are around 320-340kg deadweight. Lambs are killed between Ayr market and some are sold through his father, Jim’s butchery, though this is a separate business. This year the lambs have averaged 39.9kg liveweight.

Following the recent lowering of carcase weight targets in abattoirs, the Aberdeen-Angus and Limousin cows he keeps when crossed with the Charolais works well for his system, gaining a good weight but the calves won’t grow to big for it to be a problem if carefully managed. “The cross produces a fit calf, but ready quick enough that it doesn’t affect the lower carcase weight, as they can be finished before they hit that weight,” said James.

“Cattle are becoming too big. Butchers can’t support animals that are to heavy and are too big for the specific size of cuts for the modern market. At the end of the day, it is all about what we want to eat on our plate,” added James. The ideal live weight is around 550-600kg, so that butchers get the right type of cattle for the majority of consumers.

However, James is confident that butchers will be around next Saturday keen to buy some of the cattle on sale at LiveScot – and to get those all-important prize tickets. For them, that’s also an important marketing tool.