Securing funding for a new building is difficult to justify with farm incomes on a continual downwards spiral, but they can make life a lot easier and allow economies of scale to bear fruit.

Fortunately, for Billy and Anne Cuthbertson, they were able to acquire the capital and planning permission to build two new sheds and a house at their new farm in Fife, when they sold their 280-acre unit at Warwickdale, Kilmarnock, along with some 30 acres of ground for development.

As a result, Billy, Anne and their two children Eve (12) and Danny (11), moved their beef rearing business in 2017, and have since then constructed a 140ft x 100 x 28ft multi-purpose storage shed which includes a lean-to calf shed at their new 390-acre unit at Balcanquhal which benefits from more free-draining soils.

“The ground here is all ploughable which means we can grow a lot of good quality grass and cereals for feed and bedding in the winter,” said Billy who instead of having to finish most of his cattle inside as was the case in Ayrshire, can now sell a larger proportion off grass alone.

“We have always looked to keep our costs down, so we’re not heavy feeders of cereals or straights. Instead we look to finish our cattle naturally off grass rather than pushing them with large amounts of expensive concentrates,” he said adding that grass quality is kept high through satellite mapping, regular soil analysis and reseeding.

Spring born calves are introduced to creep feeding at grass and once housed and weaned are fed a TMR comprising of pit silage, maize distillers, home-grown bruised barley, Hi-pro soya and minerals. After grazing for a second summer they are wintered on ad-lib silage plus a kg/head/day maize distillers and minerals. They are then sold off the grass direct to the abattoir.

In Ayrshire, their farm was home to 100 suckler cows plus youngstock and bought in beef cross calves mostly from dairy herds. These finishing cattle required extra concentrates during the summer at grass to reach the desired 400kg deadweight with enough fat cover. In contrast, the better soils and drier climate at Balcanquhal, have seen the cattle perform better with most finishing quicker and with minimal extra feed compared with the previous cattle at Warwickdale.

“I do think the cattle are more settled here as we are seeing a quicker turnover both from our home-bred calves and those bought in to finish, but then the ground is drier here.

“Weight is still the best payer at the end of the day and having cattle out at grass for three summers means they get a good life and grow to good weights without a lot of concentrates,” added Billy.

“Approximately three-quarters of our cattle sold are finished off grass most of which produce R and U grades while those bought in from the dairy herd are more likely to yield R and O grades. Between July through to the end of October this year, we sold 100 off grass – a third of which required no extra feeding,” he said.

The big move to Balcanquhal which was part of the Pitlochie Estate, Gateside, saw some 60 Simmental, Limousin, British Blue cross cows and 300 head of youngstock transported to the new farm. The farm already had a good cattle handling system and accommodation for 350 head which was a main attraction of purchasing the farm. However, there was no suitable grain or feed storage area.

“One of the first things I did when we moved in January 2017, was buy a digger which allowed me to do the ground work for the house and shed builds. We got planning permission for the house in January and the sheds in March 2017 and both builds commenced in June which was a bit chaotic! The main part of the shed was completed by the beginning of September in time for harvest as targeted and the cattle accommodation was completed by October 2017.”

In addition to the large shed, a 200ft x 27ft shed was constructed over the handling system in the Spring of 2018 providing extra calving pens.

And, while they got quotes from several builders, they went to the suppliers they knew best – Willie Smith of William Smith Engineering and Robert Veitch of Ve-Tech Concrete, both of whom are based in Ayrshire.

“They were not the cheapest or the dearest, but we knew we could trust and rely on them to do a good job and in the time frame we needed.”

The new multi-purpose shed was built with a 60ft x 40ft area for grain. This area can be extended by removing the panels and steel columns which are in sockets forming bunkers for straights, these are bought in bulk as the height of the shed allows artics to tip indoors. The rest of the shed is used for feed mixing and straw storage which along with the feed and fertiliser account for the largest costs on the farm.

“We grow 55 acres of spring barley for feed which we bruise and mix with straights to make up our own blends, the straw is just as valuable as it is used along with straw bought in the bout to bed the cattle. We use about 1400 round bales a year,” added Billy.

The main part of the shed is 140ft x 60ft and used for storage with 140ftx 40ft used for cattle accommodation. This part of the shed was a tad more complicated given the fact it is based on four separate group pens each of which have a concrete step down to the bedding area – 3ft below the calves’ feed stand area.

This helps to keep calves cleaner as the feed area is completely separate from the bedding and can be scraped out by the telehandler as required. The separate bedding area also helps to reduce the amount of straw required compared to straw bedded courts and a feed passage all on the one level.

Shuttering a curve of concrete 3ft deep around the steel legs makes mucking out simpler and a step at the feed barrier allows smaller calves to reach the feed also makes scraping out straight forward.

With two 200ft x 100ft cattle sheds already on the farm, the business can now accommodate 450 head of cattle to include the 70 suckler cows and their progeny. Bill and Margaret, Billy’s parents and business partners, remain in Kilmarnock and buy calves, the majority of which are British Blues, at Craig Wilson’s Ayr Market to keep stock numbers up.

“We used to dairy farm up until 2004 and always finished the calves so we know what we’re doing with them – most of the time,” said Billy, who prefers bullock calves compared to females as they grow to heavier weights and settle quicker.

Beef calves from the dairy herd are also cheaper, quieter and, they still reach the same weights as pure-bred beef.

He added: “Buying in calves at much more than £2 per live kg is not sustainable when the beef price is so low and the processors want carcases at reduced weights. You can get dairy-bred beef calves for less money and while they don’t produce the same grade they do reach the same weights and probably leave a better margin.”

Moving house let alone farms from the wetter west to the drier east is a mammoth change not only for the Cuthbertson family but also for their business, but it is obviously bearing fruit with both appearing to thrive in their new surroundings.

Despite the downturn in the beef trade, Billy has plans to expand their suckler herd provided end product prices improve, but then with the fertile soils at Balcanquhal providing more potential converting additional grassland to arable is always a possibility if need be.