Beef Shorthorn cattle fit like a glove in Dalswinton Estate’s 500-cow suckler enterprise.

The breed’s natural hardiness and maternal traits combined with temperament are being blended with the unit’s Angus genetics to deliver a profitable enterprise trading 10 to 12-month-old calves, and it is one on which to build for the future, says Peter Landale.

Beef Shorthorn and Angus cows currently make up 65% of the herd, and are robust with 85% calving outdoors and unaided and 93% calving within the first nine weeks. They have plenty of milk, rearing 91% calves and achieving 46% cow efficiency at weaning.

The herd is scheduled to achieve eight calf crops on average whilst the replacement rate stands at 10%, explains Peter who manages in hand his Dumfriesshire property comprising 1000ha of mainly grassland running from the River Nith at 30ft rising to1000ft above sea-level, together with 1000ha forestry.

“During the last eight years we have introduced a criss cross breeding strategy and improved our grassland management which has enabled us to successfully expand the suckler herd by more than 50% and achieve critical mass, and it's the Beef Shorthorn that has helped us to minimise fixed costs and improve our efficiency.

“Introducing the breed has enabled us to split the herd 50:50 to winter outdoors on the hill and forage crops, consequently we have avoided having to invest a six-figure sum in new additional accommodation with accompanying labour and equipment. Also farming a quiet breed helps to reduce the overall workload for our four-strong team.

“In fact, Beef Shorthorns are proving pivotal to successfully achieving our goal. We have focused on finding a way of farming that is not too intensive, yet profitable and sustainable,” he explains. “We’ve reached a position where we are breaking even before payments; we believe the business can now sustain the changes scheduled under a new post Brexit regime, without the current support system.”

It was Peter’s confidence in consumer demand for beef coupled with a focus on running a single enterprise business that led the estate’s suckler herd to come under the microscope.

“Whilst we bed and breakfast sheep over winter, we believe in focusing on one strategy rather than flipping in and out and chasing rainbows, and we think our template will stand up to scrutiny at a time when we are set for massive changes.”

Dalswinton has already edged in to the top third of Beef Efficiency Scheme suckler producers, explains Andy Williamson who took up the farm manager’s reins in 2012 when the herd comprised mainly Angus crosses. “My brief was to increase herd size from 320 to 500 cows and turn it in to profit. It’s a project that’s proved to be a steep learning curve, however being members of the Beef Efficiency Scheme has provided great impetus and QMS has given us some honest answers to various queries.

“In the first instance, we decided our cows were becoming too pure, so we went in search of introducing hybrid vigour and in particular, more milk. Beef Shorthorn was added to our bull team. We selected on eye moderate size bulls backed by EBVs for maternal traits.

“At the same time, we began a grassland improvement programme correcting soil pH, improving its fertility and reseeding. We’ve also introduced a batch of 35 heifers to mob grazing. Added together and those efficiency measures have helped us to improve stocking rates by up to 80% on permanent pasture.

“The Beef Shorthorn Angus crosses have also contributed to higher stocking. Smaller cows eat less yet prove to be as efficient as bigger ones. Whilst heifers are sufficiently well grown to calve at two years at an average 550kg, they mature at between 650kg and 700kg.

“Hardiness and temperament have been two of the biggest benefits. These cows have proved easy to keep outdoors 365 days of the year. Whilst approximately 50% of the herd is in calf to the Charolais and wintered in existing accommodation on silage and minerals and turned out immediately after calving, the Beef Shorthorn Angus crosses are wintered on rough grazing starting at 600’, coming down in January to 400’ with silage supplements and eventually to strip graze 16ha of brassicas,” he explains.

“Outwintering keeps the cows physically fit and I believe lends to ease of calving. In fact, the majority of the Beef Shorthorn Angus herd is calved outdoors without any real issues and calves are soon on their feet and sucking. We can have 150 cows calving in one week, and that’s where quiet temperament as well as at other handling times.”

Dalswinton calves are weaned at eight months and an average 300kg; a sample of cows and all calves are weighed at weaning and introduced to creep with a 1kg DLG target over the next eight weeks to reach 400kg at 10 to 12 months. Charolais crosses are sold privately to a local finisher whilst Beef Shorthorn cross steers are traded through the Stirling ring to repeat finishers for the Morrisons Shorthorn Beef Scheme and selected heifers retained for replacement purposes.

Peter adds: “Going forward and the devil will be in the detail of any new regime to Dalswinton’s herd success, however we already have our Beef Shorthorn Angus herd to provide a springboard on which to continue to reduce inputs, further improve efficiency and strive to be the best.”