Former Scotland international and British and Irish Lion, John Jeffrey, may well be renowned for his amazing career in rugby which has recently gone from strength to strength, but in farming circles he and his late father Jimmy, have always been better known in pedigree cattle circles, being one of the first to breed Simmental cattle north of the Border.

Interim chairman of Scottish Rugby, and chairman of the Six Nations council, John or JJ as he's better known, has seen a lot of the world, but has always returned to the family beef and arable farm at Kersknowe, Kelso, which over the past 50 years has been home to numerous pedigree beef breeds to include Charolais, Romagnola, Chianina, Limousin, Maine Anjou, Parthenaise and Rotbunte .The father and son duo also made their mark with their Deuchrie pedigree Border Leicesters and Half-bred ewe lambs.

However, only two remain now – Simmentals and Charolais.

"The Simmental is the ultimate dual-purpose breed while the Charolais is the terminal sire," said JJ.

"We missed out on the first importation of Charolais but we did get some from the third lot to come into the UK, in 1967 and we got four Simmental females from one of the early shipments from Austria in 1970.

The Scottish Farmer:

Kersknowe team, John Jeffrey and stockman Jim Cowan (right)

"The Charolais were huge then and did have some calving issues in those days, whereas the Simmentals took off straight from the start because people could see the potential in them as a multi-purpose breed. They were more of a dairy breed in Austria and Germany and while they didn't have the beef traits of the Charolais, they were easier calving.

"Some of the Simmentals were actually too milky to begin with and they had massive udders, but they were mostly from Austria. The German-type of Simmental, was a more balanced type of female," he added.

And, while the initial cattle imported from the continent were lighter coloured, they have changed depending on the fashion and end use required.

"To begin with, there was nothing to beat the Charolais for size and weight gain, and while the breed still is the No 1 terminal sire, the Simmental is so much better now compared to what she was 50 years ago and daily liveweight gains aren't far off those of the Charolais," said JJ, who farms with his wife Anne and two daughters Lara and Kate and is also very reliant on stockman, Jim Cowan.

The Scottish Farmer:

Stock cows and spring-born calves at Kersknowe

"The Simmental is the ultimate suckler female breeder that has size and fleshing ability. Simmentals also have a great temperament and milk. No one ever looks or asks about the milk or calving figures of a Simmental when they buy a bull because they produce big scopey, milky cows," added JJ pointing out that the Kersknowe herd has been built up solely from 12 imported females and has been closed for well over 40 years, with the exception of bull purchases. As a result, the health status of the herd is extremely good, and is a Level 2 for Johnes.

He also believes the breed has improved immensely in the past 10-20 years.

"There used to be so many different types of Simmental bulls, but they are a lot more uniform now and they are still a good shapey, dual purpose breed. I would hate it if the breed went all out for shape and big back ends and lost their maternal traits."

It's the fertility and prolificacy of the Simmental that is proving a force to be reckoned with at Kersknowe too, when the breed which is kept pure and run alongside their pure-bred Charolais neighbours, never has any bother calving and therefore come to the bull quicker. Barren rates are virtually non existent amongst this big brown/cream and white breed.

The Scottish Farmer:

Nothing to beat the Simmental for her ease of calving, temperament and maternal characteristics

"Our Simmentals never have a problem holding to the bull and there are always plenty of calves. As a pedigree breeder, I'm not a fan of twins, but there is no doubt twins in a commercial herd can be extremely handy and up to 15% of our herd will produce twins every year. We'll regularly get four or five sets and with the Simmental being as milky as she is, she can rear those calves."

All bulls are kept entire and are commercially reared without creep feed until just before speaning when the top end with future breeding potential are shed off to be sold either privately or through United Auctions' Stirling Bull Sales.

While the best of pedigree bulls are sold either at the sale in February or May, up to 70% are sold privately to regularly buyers looking for naturally reared bulls that will go straight out and work.

"The very top end of bulls do get better treatment for the sales, but they have to in order to compete with the rest on show. We end up spending an extra £300 on feed and semen testing to get them in show condition, only for the buyer to take it off them when they get home to ensure they are in good working condition when they get home," added JJ.

The bottom end of Simmental bulls are finished at 13-14months of age to produce U and R grades a long with the tail of the Charolais which yield similar grades but can often be sold a month younger, through AK Stoddart, Broxburn.

The Scottish Farmer:

Home-bred in-calf heifers that calve inside for ease of management

All heifers – out with those retained for breeding – are finished on farm with the Simmentals able to be sold off grass at 18months of age at 400kg and the Charolais again a month younger. Heifers, both yearlings and maiden are all summered up at the hill farm, Deuchrie Where they calm back in great nick.

Cows are also sold finished at a pretty young age – six to seven years of age when they come to good money – even though they could easy go on into double figures. But then, Kersknowe Simmental and Charolais cows regularly top the sale at St Boswells, at £1500-£1600 per head plus, ensuring a healthy young herd with modern genetics is maintained.

There have been a few good stock bulls that have stamped their mark in the past too, with one of the best being a bull bought by JJ's father, Lodge Julius at a previous Royal Show, privately. Some AI was used to increase the genetics including Sterling Parliamentarian , Haywood Scorpio and Brinkton Brilliant

Other former stockbulls that made their mark include Darshams Jude, and Starline Apollo, a 12,000gns bull bought at Stirling that bred the herd's top priced Simmental bull to date, Kersknowe Dandy at 16,000gns and Kersknowe Deputy at 10,000gns both of which were sold in 2014.

The Scottish Farmer:

One of several stockbulls at Kersknowe

While most of the herd calves in the spring, inside on straw-bedded courts, up to a third, to include most of the heifers calve in the autumn and inside, which are often brought inside for a good part of the summer to keep the condition off them.

"If you get the fettle right in your females pre calving, you'll not get calving problems. We're especially strict on our heifers before they are due to make sure they don't get too fit," said JJ adding that most years his autumn calvers are brought inside during the summer.

Such has been the demand for Simmental bulls that unfortunately, Kersknowe does not have any bulls for sale at Stirling next week, but you can be rest assured they will have a cracking line up for the sales in February and May.


Family business: John and Anne, daughters Lara (14) and Kate (12) with stockman/herd manager Jim Cowan who has worked at Kersknowe since 1997

Farms: Kersknowe and Frogden comprising 1100acres and 600acres respectively split 50:50 between cereals and grass. Deuchrie, the original family farm of 1300 acres carries 1400 blackface and Greyface (Border Leicester type!) and summers all young stock from Kersknowe. All lambs not finished off grass at Deuchrie are finished off vegetable aftermath at Kersknowe

Herd numbers: 40 Simmental cows and 90 Charolais cows both coming under the Kersknowe prefix. Only replacement females kept with remainder sold finished. Bulls sold at United Auctions, Stirling and privately, with bottom end sold finished at 13-months of age. Heifers not retained for breeding are finished at 16-18 months of age off grass.

Heifers: Calve at 21/2-years to a Beef Shorthorn bull, with all progeny finished off farm.


Best investment? Modern cattle handling facilities ......what took me so long?

Where do you want to be in 2030? Healthy enough to still enjoy life

Biggest gripe? Negativity

What have you missed most as a result of Covid-19? What I’ve not missed is getting up at 4 o'clock to fly to London once or twice a week

Future of Scottish rugby? There is a great crop of youngsters coming through, so very optimistic