The Beef Shorthorn is stepping up its presence at Glenrinnes having been tried and tested for the last decade on the Speyside estate to successfully deliver a profit and fit various agri-environment schemes.

The pedigree herd is scheduled to expand by more than 40% to 50 cows at the expense of a second native pedigree herd, whilst continental genetics are being scaled back in the suckler herd for a criss cross breeding strategy featuring Beef Shorthorn and Angus.

“Since our family moved to Glenrinnes more than 25 years ago, our aim has been to develop the estate sensitively and with an eye to quality. We believe in working with native breeds and our preference going forward is Beef Shorthorn,” explains Alasdair Locke who owns the family managed estate.

“We chose Beef Shorthorn since we believed it was the native breed that most suited our estate. We like the fact that the breed has good maternal traits such as easy calving with the cows having plenty milk which allow the calves to grow quickly. The cows also suit our organic forage based system.”

The Scottish Farmer:

Herdsman Glenn Dean, left with owner Alasdair Locke

The Beef Shorthorn herd is calving unaided commencing in February and with 85% calving within the first nine weeks. The herd is rearing 99% calves per year.

“Calves are lively, soon up and suckling and their dams make for great mothers – they really do look after their calves,” explains the unit’s herdsman, Glenn Dean.

“These cows are lasting for an average 10 calf crops, and we still have a handful of the herd’s foundation stock, however expanding the herd is providing us with the opportunity for more young blood. For example, we have recently invested in a new herd sire, and six heifers are coming in to the herd this year. We AI'ed them to calve in January to help tighten up the calving pattern."

Glenn added that the cows have a quiet temperament which is important as the cattle enterprise is managed single handed by himself. They also have to be relocated over long distances from time to time and often along seven miles of main road, so cattle that can be easily moved without jumping gates and fences are important, he said.

“Our mature pure-bred cows are averaging 700kg and calves 290kg, however going forward we plan to weigh both our cows and calves at weaning to see which are the most efficient. We are targeting our cows to wean 50% of their bodyweight and we are aware there is room for improvement and stepping up the pedigree herd’s performance is on the agenda.

The Scottish Farmer:

Glenrinnes look for tight uddered milky heifers

“We will in future be able to use data to select more carefully our breeding animals having just started to Breedplan performance record. That data should also help to enhance sales,” says Glenn.

“Once we reach targeted herd expansion, we plan to sell surplus stock either at the farm gate or on the ring, dipping a toe in the water at the Stirling February sales.”

Estate manager, Alister Laing added: “Pedigree cattle offer a great showcase and they encourage staff dedication. Whilst we decided to concentrate on the one pedigree herd, a suckler herd is also very important in an organic system and it’s also come under the microscope.

“We agreed to reduce the continental influence, and introduce a criss cross breeding strategy in an attempt to achieve hybrid vigour resulting in more milk and better carcase weights. This year for the first time the majority of our Angus cows have been served to the Beef Shorthorn."

He added that while times are changing and Brexit looms, the team has also started monitoring the suckler cows more when no one really knows how future subsidies will look.

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Pedigree cows have to have good feet and legs when they have to walk long distances

"Now is the time to look at the nitty gritty to ensure the beef cattle continue to wash their faces, that’s going to be our priority in future."

As a result, they are planning follow the AHDB performance indicators and look at calving indicators – calving percentage, calving period, growth rates – average age at weaning, average weight, and replacements – empty cow and heifers and percentage of cows culled.

Recording these figures individually or as a herd will allow them to identify poor performers and remove them out of the system so to lift up performance to maximise profit. Whilst the herd may currently be in the top 30% of performance, going forward they believe they need to be in the top 10%.

The turnaround was made last year after the estate introduced a fresh pair of eyes; the SAC Consulting Beef and Sheep team was invited to assess the beef enterprise.

“The outcome led us to agree to focus on producing traditional quality beef, introduce various new measures to step up the unit’s performance efficiency, start finishing some cattle and start direct marketing. We currently sell all our suckled calves straight off the farm weaned to a local organic finisher.”

The estate eventually plans for a farm shop to complement its distillery, and to market its own produce - game, venison and Blackface lamb, together with Beef Shorthorn beef. The initiative is also designed to further encourage tourism and add to the rural economy.

Glenrinnes firmly believes that its low input organic system is the way forward for naturally reared native breed stock, and it has also adopted a renewed focus on exploiting existing resources.

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Just one of several stockbulls

For example, grassland management also features including the introduction of a reseeding policy, stitching in, topping and rotational paddock grazing. Homegrown grass silage is already analysed on a regular basis and the herds’ TMR diet balanced accordingly.

“Our Beef Shorthorn cattle are extremely hardy and we outwinter as long as we can before bringing them in to calve and introduced to a finely balanced low-cost diet - silage, straw and homegrown barley topped up with soya and minerals.”

Alister added: “Going forward and we also need to make sure we continue to manage an efficient system that is also eligible for future environmental support schemes, which in turn help to cover our fixed costs, keep people in jobs and ultimately, maintain our rural community. We believe our low input Beef Shorthorn mix should qualify.”

FARM facts

Glenrinnes is a 2500ha organic unit which includes 524ha permanent grass, 172ha arable ground, 1275ha rough grazing and 529ha forestry

Livestock numbers include 35-cow pedigree Beef Shorthorn herd, 130-cow suckler herd 1600 Blackface and Mule ewes and 200 roe deer