There is a place for all breeds, but when it comes to easy calving, weight gain and hi-health, there is nothing to beat the Simmental – so said relatively new breeder, Bruce Lambie, Fallhills, Penicuik, who is gearing up for a busy week at Stirling Bull Sales part two.

Bruce added that the breed has all the characteristics for the ideal, easy calving suckler cow – calves with low birth weights, great mothering ability and milkiness – while maintaining growth rates to rival terminal sire breeds.

“Simmentals are one of the best breeds for growth rates and ease of calving,” said Bruce. "Temperament is also important, with a young family and limited staff, the cattle have to work for you not against you."

His Fallhills Simmental herd was established in 2013 with the purchase of two heifers from Lindsay and Dorothy Moffat, Innerwick, Dunbar – Braidwood Diamond and Innerwick Dream. Bruce paid £5000 apiece for the pair bought privately, with both being daughters of Castlegale Titan.

The Scottish Farmer:

Some of last years calve crop, sired by various AI sires and chased up with stock bull Islavale Gallant Ref:RH300120050

Skerrington Twinkle was also purchased as a heifer the same year at United Auctions, Stirling, from William Young's Kilmarnock-based Skerrington herd.

“We started off with strong females and all three have bred extremely well for us and are still in the herd,” said Bruce, adding that expansion since then has been through retaining heifers and the purchase of two females – Islavale Hilda and Islavale Hosta. They were both bought privately from Stewart Stronach and family, Berryleys, Keith, for £3500 each.

The Scottish Farmer: Cows and calves are housed from September onward and fed on a silage diet to keep them sustained during the winter Ref:RH300120062  

Most of the cows calve in August, September and are in-wintered from September onwards, depending on the weather on haylage, silage and pre-calving buckets. The bulls are fed by Davidsons Animal Feeds and Galloway Macleod prior to the sale to keep their condition throughout.

“It works well for us, we can’t fault the feed and it helps put the growth, flesh and finish on our bulls that we require for Stirling. Heifers calve at 2.5years of age inside in February, so that a closer eye can be kept on them."

The Scottish Farmer:

Heifers are housed from September onward and fed on a silage diet to keep them sustained during the winter   Ref:RH300120060

AI has always been used to introduce different bloodlines, but Bruce does run one stockbull, Islavale Gallant to ensure a tight calving pattern. He was also purchased privately in 2017 from Stewart Stronach for £7000 and Bruce is excited to be offering his first son sale for sale at Stirling next week.

“We go by appearance, figures and breeding, when we are looking for a potential stock bull. A long, clean well fleshed bull is what we are after – length pays off at the end of the day,” said Bruce.

The Scottish Farmer:

 Islavale Gallant keep as a stock bull in case AI doesnt hold    Ref:RH300120053

Calving ease figures and those of the bull’s daughters are considered, although Bruce is also aware EBV figures might not be 100% accurate.

Bruce’s first bull sold at the Stirling was Fallhills Gunther, which realised 7000gns to Broadfield Farms, in 2017. A son of Popes Barclay, he goes back to the herd’s foundation cow, Braidwood Diamond. His half-brother, Fallhills Genesis, by the same sire, but out of the other foundation cow, Innerwick Dream, realised 6500gns.

“Our foundation cows have bred exceptionally well for us and made a real stamp on our herd,” said Bruce.

Along with these two females, another influential cow in the herd is Fallhills Illuminate, which is potentially set for the Royal Highland this year. She is an in-calf 2½-year-old, with easy calving figures and low birth weights.

The Scottish Farmer:

Favorite of Bruces and potential show heifer October 2017 born Fallhills Illuminate    Ref:RH300120064 

“Braidwood Diamond and Innerwick Dream are great cows to have, as both are breeding well, so we have decided to flush them in the hope to continue their breeding potential throughout the herd,” added Bruce.

While he is considering showing this year, this will be a first, as he usually does not have the time and does not want to compromise the herd’s hi-health status, which is hugely important. One of the first herds to achieve a neospora risk level one status, in November, 2019, Fallhills has also been accredited for IBR since December, 2015 and docketed a Johne’s risk level one at the same time.

The Scottish Farmer:

Bruce works in conjunction with his local vets, Two Rivers, in Biggar and Peebles, to maintain this hi-health status which involves yearling testing of all animals. Bulls are only vaccinated for BVD, while all females are vaccinated for BVD leptospirosis and IBR.

Bruce also pelvic scores the heifers as yearlings, thereby enabling them to be culled before they go to the bull. Heifers are culled if any are found to have abnormalities along with feet or teat problems.

“We don’t want to sell anything that we wouldn’t breed from ourselves, so we look to get rid of any problem cattle as early as possible to ensure the quality and well being of the herd is maintained,” said Bruce.

The Scottish Farmer:

Fallhills  Bull crop from 2018 bound for sale at Stirling, (L-R) Jaffa, Jock and Jocasta   Ref:RH300120067

Bruce has three, 15-16-month-old bulls for next week’s Stirling sales, including Jocasta, Jock and Jaffa.

Jocasta is sired via AI by Popes Barclay, and out of the heifer, Islavale Hosta; Fallhills Jock is by the well-known, Curaheen Bandit, which has bred bulls to 14,000gns and out of the heifer, Fallhills Heather; and Jaffa is the first son of Islavale Gallant to be sold. He is out of Braidwood Diamond.

The Scottish Farmer:

August born Fallhills Jocasta bound for Stirling    Ref:RH300120078

“The bull sales are always a big question mark. You never know what is going to happen with the trade, but we can only hope for the best,” said Bruce.

Free-lance stockman, Allan Jackson, of Headlind Livestock, assists in the final preparations prior to the sale ring. “He has years of experience and knows exactly what he is talking about. He makes bulls look like I could only dream of,” added Bruce.

The Scottish Farmer:

 Bruce keeping the training up for August born Fallhills Jocasta oRef:RH300120074

Although a small herd, Bruce runs a tight ship, working with Anderson Farm Consultants to produce a detailed efficiency plan to control costs. The current farming climate is a worry, however.

“We are lucky the poor beef trade has not directly affected us yet when we have such a small herd and our health status helps if we sell any females.

“It is a concern for the future though and we need to keep improving levels of efficiency and outputs, despite the risk of no-trade deals, exchange rates and any future tariffs which are completely out with our control,” said Bruce.

Climate change and the reduction in consumption of red meat does not put Bruce off either, as he would like to double his numbers in the near future, even though he is very much a one-man band at present.

“I have to remember, it is a business operation so the books have to balance at the end of the day. There is, nevertheless, no question that Simmentals work here and we are always trying to improve to be the best we can,” concluded Bruce.

Farm facts:

• Family business, run by Bruce with assistance from father, Alister, comprising 210 ha and a further 60 ha rented.

• A herd of 20 pure pedigree Simmental cows run alongside 1100 Mules and 30 pedigree Suffolks.

• Breed their own tups for use commercially, with all progeny sold finished through United Auctions, Stirling, or Woodhead Brothers, Turriff.

• Simmental pedigree herd first established in 2013.

The Scottish Farmer:

Fallhills farm sign, welcoming people to their farm

On the spot

• Best investment to date: Grass – Regular re-seeding. The farm works closely with Douglas Bond, of Nickersons. The ‘Grow pro-plus’ range last year produced a silage analysis of 11ME with 15% CP from 60 acres cut three times a year.

• Best advice: From dad – he has 50 years’ experience in farming and his saying “go with your gut instinct, you have to trust it, it's not normally far away,” said Bruce.

• Biggest achievement: Family – wife, Danielle and two children, Scarlett and Thea.

• Hobbies: “I used to enjoy rugby, but I have retired from that now. I don’t miss the training on wet and cold nights now though, skiing is another passion of mine,” said Bruce.

• If you could change one thing, what would it be: "The depressed state of the beef industry and the weather!"

The Scottish Farmer:

Best investment is the grass, which goes on to make great silage, the cows and heifers are not complaining    Ref:RH300120058