Young, enthusiastic and capable are the three words that spring to mind after speaking to the Moir brothers – William and David – who farm in partnership under Moir Livestock just outside Fraserburgh, Aberdeenshire.

The pair took on the lease of Newmill of Rathen when they were just 17 and 19 years of age, respectively, having worked on the family farm at Home Farm, Cairness, since they left school at 16.

“The family farm went organic in 2006 and although it is a great market to be in, we just felt it wasn’t for us when we wanted to push our livestock numbers. Being organic is quite restrictive when it comes to buying in livestock and every day-to-day chores,” the brothers said, admitting that both gained outside experience before venturing out on their own.

David’s ‘unsung hero’ is veteran Suffolk sheep breeder, Jimmy Douglas, who farms over the dyke at Woodhead of Cairness, and where the youngster spent much of his spare time in earlier years.

“I wouldn’t have the knowledge I have without him. Jimmy encouraged me from the start and has always been there for advice,” said David.

William gained most of his knowledge and experience working with cattle through Albert and George Howie, West Knock, Mintlaw, and it was here where the brothers privately purchased their first pedigree females – 60 Limousins, many of which were black, in 2018.

“There is definitely a demand for the right black Limousins, but it is definitely a niche market as there are not many breeders out there. We also find the black Limousins make better cows as they tend to have more milk,” said William, who is also looking to introduce polled genetics.

The boys are also upsizing herd numbers and this year have another 20 heifers calving after retaining the top 75% of heifer calves as replacements, with the remainder being sold finished at 15 months through Caledonian Marts Stirling at 550-600kg per head.

Bulls are all kept entire with the bottom 25% sold deadweight through Woodhead Brothers, Turriff at a year old at around 650kg live, with the remainder of the bulls either kept for use on at Home Farm, where their parents John and Gillian and their grandad, Willie, are based, or for selling either at the Stirling Bull Sales, Carlisle, or privately.

Last year, they had a few cracking successes, selling 15 bulls to a top of 10,000gns at Carlisle, in October, with their pen of three averaging £7875.

They are hoping for a similar trade for their four bulls for next week’s Stirling Bull Sales too. All are 18-month-old black sons of Goldies Goldfinger.

“We are really pleased with the team – it’s the strongest we’ve had our bulls and they’ve all got good figures,” said William who is equally pleased with the bulls for later in the year, most of which are sons of the current stock bull, Wilodge Ninja, purchased in 2019 for 15,000gns after standing reserve champion at Carlisle.

Their main business, however, is buying in good quality cross-bred heifer stirks to sell the following year as bullers. They had a hugely successful sale at Thainstone, last month, selling no fewer than 95 to a top of £3900 to average a colossal £2200.

These are purchased between March and June anywhere between Orkney, down to St Boswells across to Islay, right back up to Thainstone and everywhere else in between.

“Ideally, we are looking for a black or blue heifer, that is suitable for growing into a good strong cow. She needs to be long, clean and well fleshed. Our main aim is breeding for show calves, so what we have needs to show a bit of character and be that bit flashier of its head than anything else.”

Heifers are put straight out to grass when bought but are housed from the middle of September onwards and fed a TMR of silage and barley. Keeping the heifers until January has expanded their customer base.

Such was the demand for the duo’s heifers this year – sold at their second one-day sale through ANM at Thainstone – that 100% clearance was achieved with a further 25 sold privately prior to the event.

Last month’s sale was also the first time the boys sold heifers to all four nations, as well as attracting new and repeat customers.

David added: “We like to see our cattle going to regular customers as it shows that as cows, they are going on to breed well for them.

“The online system also helped our sale this year, with more than a third being sold that way. Aberdeen and Northern Marts marketed our heifers to perfection and really supported our sale,” said David.

Springtime is also just around the corner and with 3200 in-lamb ewes, the Moir brothers certainly have their work cut out.

Lambing kicks off at the beginning of February inside, with the 600 Suffolk Mules lambing to home-bred Texel rams from their small pedigree flock or bought at the Kelso Ram Sales. Ewes run with the tups for just 28 days to squeeze the lambing window as much as possible.

The bulk of the lambing, however, takes place in April and is mostly outside with 1000 Scotch Mule ewes and 450 hoggs lambing at once. The 1000 Mules are bought as top draw lambs and are put to a Suffolk tup, bought privately from Jimmy Douglas. The 450 Suffolk Mules and the remainder of the bought in Scotch Mules lamb to home-bred Charollais crosses or Beltex sires.

“You just can’t compete with Mules. They are the best all-round breeding ewes and are the easiest to keep – they just get on with everything themselves,” said David, adding that scanning percentages regularly work out around the 200% mark.

To be as self-efficient as possible, the Moirs run three small flocks of Suffolk, Beltex and Texels to produce pedigree tups for their own use and to sell the following year as shearling rams either at Huntly, Thainstone or privately.

Any bought-in stock does have to have a bit of character and some future breeding potential though.

“We like things to work well and we want to have good stock to look at, so we do tend to buy the top end of stock, but then, we’ve always been told to buy the best you can afford, rather than the cheapest available,” said William.

David added: “The best advice that the late John Bell gave us was: ‘It costs the same to feed a bad one as a good one. If you start with something good you always have somewhere to go with it and they will always sell on a bad sale day.

The remaining 1200 ewes are split between Shetland and Cheviot cast ewes, which are tupped with Suffolk and Texel tups.

These are bought directly either from Shetland or Lairg auction marts annually as four-crops and are kept for one season, before being sold cast the following year.

“Shetland ewes are a great way of getting additional lambs for us to finish. We can buy the ewes in for £40-£45 and make the same price the following year, and their lambs can be worth £80-£100 as hoggs, with the flock achieving scanning percentages of 130%,” said David.

To feed these additional lambs, some 250 acres are rented through the summer, with a further 1000 acres over the winter.

In addition, they also buy in several thousand store lambs each year for finishing which are outwintered on those seasonal grazings, with the addition of East Coast Viner’s lamb pellets.

“Last year will have been our biggest year for buying in lambs so we have been extremely lucky with the trade this year. We’ve had a good bite at the cherry already,” said David. Hoggs were sold deadweight to Kepak, at Portlethen, and Woodhead Brothers/Morrisons, Turriff, with the top end of hoggs being sold live through UA Huntly. All cast ewes and tups are sold at Huntly.

It’s been a busy fast four years for the brothers, but they have so many more goals to achieve.

“We always want to be moving forward. Our long-term goals are to continue to expand our Limousin herd and hopefully one day buy our own farm,” they concluded.

Farm facts

Livestock: 3200 ewes – 600 Suffolk Mule ewes, 1000 Mule ewes, 450 hoggs (300 Suffolk Mules and 150 Scotch Mules) and 1200 Shetland and Cheviots, as well as fattening a couple of thousand store hoggs annually. The team also run a 60-pedigree cow Limousin herd on top of buying in 150 store cattle each year to sell on for bulling heifers.

Acreage: 350 acres lease for Newmill of Rathen, with a further 250 acres summer grazing and 1000acres over the winter.

Who is all involved: Two brothers, William and David do the majority of the work. With William’s partner, Rebecca Stuart also helping when not at East Coast Viners.

Start date: Moir livestock took on the lease for Newmill of Rathen in 2017.

On the Spot

Best investment: William believes a three deck sheep float has been the most worthwhile purchase on the farm, whilst David thinks the Shetland ewes bring the most return to the farm.

Biggest achievement: William added:” Considering we have only had two bull sales seasons and have sold two bulls for over 10,000gns”. David’s biggest achievement is winning the Young Farmers stock judging at the Royal Highland Show with James Lowe and Findlay Greg in 2017.

What are you miss most under lockdown: Getting out and about and seeing people. As well as the craic at shows and sales.

Favourite restaurant: William enjoys going to Fennel in Inverurie, whilst David loves a kebab shop to support the cull ewe trade!

Interests out with farming: Not much time for anything else other than farming, although William enjoys going to Crovie with Rebecca and her parents to their second home and getting out on their boat. David used to play rugby and now enjoys watching the Six Nations.