Owning an expanding beef enterprise that is based on the increased growth rates of the Charolais to sire top quality store calves is paying handsome dividends for father and son duo, Eric and Ellis Mutch from Burnside of Whitefield, Forglen, Banff.

Three generations of the Mutch family have farmed at Burnside of Whitefield, which goes back to 1955 when Eric’s late father, also Eric, took on the tenancy. He got the chance to buy the farm in 1972 and grabbed the opportunity with both hands!

Two neighbouring farms were added in 1979 and the other in 1987, which are now run by Eric and Ellis, assisted by their wives Karen and Louise respectively. Ellis and Louise have high hopes that their son, Eric – just one-year-old – will be the fourth generation to run the farm in years to come.

With the ongoing expansion at Burnside of Whitefield, Ellis has recently left his full-time job as an auctioneer at Aberdeen Northern Marts, Thainstone centre to come home and work full time on the farm thereby maximising returns.

The family has always had a pedigree herd running alongside a commercial herd, starting with Aberdeen-Angus, however in 1972 they were all wiped out with the cattle disease, Brucellosis. A commercial herd was re-established in 1974 and a Charolais bull was introduced for the first time. A pedigree herd returned to Whitefield with Blondes in 1993 and Charolais in 1995. Since 1974 the Charolais has always been the choice of bull for their commercial herd, being one of the top terminal sires.

The team now sells around four or five pedigree bulls annually, mainly at Stirling Bull Sales, with two taking to the stage this month.

The bulls are April and May 2019-born entries and are sired by the current stock bull, Kersknowe Matador, which was an October 2017 purchase at 10,000gns.

“He is the first stock bull we have purchased for the pedigree herd, and it was a big step for us as at the time when we were previously AI’ing them. Commercial cows are run with homebred Charolais bulls and with our pedigree numbers increasing a few years ago we soon realised we had to make the investment.

“We took our time to select a bull that ticked all our boxes. Figures are important when selecting a bull but, above all, it has to be correct, well put together and pleasing to the eye. Matador has proven to be an easy calving bull, producing good sized calves that soon mushroom, we are really pleased with his performance,” said Ellis, who is now almost at the stage of looking for his next stock bull.

On the flip side, the best price to date for the Forglen herd was in October 2018 at Stirling Bull Sales when they sold Forglen Nero for 8500gns.

“We are trying to build up a name for the Forglen herd and get more involved in the pedigree world. We believe a great way of doing this is through showing, it is a great shop window to showcase the livestock you have available,” said Ellis.

“We have been working away, gaining prize tickets over the years, and it is the camaraderie with other exhibitors at shows that we enjoy most. Charolais breeders are a great group of enthusiasts to be part of, having met people the length and breadth of the country,” agreed both Eric and Ellis, who have both judged locally and at national level. Ellis also won the coveted best beef individual in the Young Farmers’ Stockmanship Programme at the Royal Highland Show.

But while both enjoy showing, it is the breed of cattle they are exhibiting that ensures long lasting enthusiasm.

“Here in the North East of Scotland Charolais cross calves dominate the store ring and have done for many years so it has always been our choice to breed them. We strive to produce calves the buyers are looking for, and to sell consistent batches of Charolais cross bullocks and heifers through Thainstone is the aim,” said Ellis.

Eric added: “People can associate a Charolais with bad calvings, however the breed has come a long way and touch wood we rarely have any problems. Yes, we will have to pull the odd one, but if you put the work in at the start you will be rewarded for it through time. The bull is just half of the equation, getting the cow in the right condition for calving is just as important.”

Everything is housed during the winter, with females being fed a silage-based diet with a 16% protein blend to ensure the correct fettle.

Around 15 of the commercial cows are put to a Limousin bull for home-bred replacements, with everything else put to home-bred Charolais bulls.

Being fully hi-health, on the BVD system since 2012 and Johne’s level 2, using their own stock to full potential to avoid bringing in any disease is essential to knowing the health status of the herd. However, this year 18 heifers were bought in to increase cow numbers and were isolated and tested before being introduced to the herd.

A tight calving period from the end of January through to the end of March and before lambing starts in April, ensures an even batch of store calves to sell the following year.

All calves are sold store through Aberdeen and Northern Marts Anniversary sale in January, which is the first sale of the year at Thainstone.

Calves are sold at 10-11months old, and this year the stots averaged 414kg at £1120 and heifers 407kg at £1080. A small handful are kept back to be sold alongside the bought in stores at the end of May.

This year, Ellis also bought in some stores to sell forward to utilise a slatted shed that was sitting empty. In all, 50 stores were bought averaging 320kg at £770, with the aim to sell them at 500kg.

The family also run 720 breeding ewes, with all lambs finished on farm and sold through Aberdeen and Northern Marts, Thainstone, or Woodhead Brothers, Turriff.

The best ewe hoggs are kept for replacements and with Eric and Ellis being keen stockmen they must be pleasing on the eye.

“I am a great believer of keeping stock young, there is no point in holding on to older ewes. We find we have less problems with births and keeping stock fresh has benefited our system, although you do need to be there for assistance in their first year,” said Eric, who will grow 15 acres of turnips to feed all age groups of the sheep.

This is the second year the sheep had a teaser ram put in with them before tupping time to tighten up the lambing period, which resulted in 500 of the 720 ewes lambing within 10 days, last year. Scanning has already taken place with a 189% lamb crop due in April.

While the boys enjoy their sheep, their vision is to improve their commercial cattle herd and increase numbers to 100.

“Last year was a tough year for everyone with the pandemic but we have to be grateful that beef and lamb prices remained positive throughout,” said Eric.

“Consumers are buying local and that is helping the job. People also seem to be taking more of an interest in where their food comes from and with the hospitality industry shut down for several months, does this show the amount of imported meat that was coming in considering sale prices are still strong for Scotch Beef and Scotch Lamb?

“We are optimistic about the future of our industry, farmers invest a great deal of hard work, time and money into producing quality food and the recent surge in support of local produce is heartening,” concluded Eric and Ellis.

Farm Facts

Livestock numbers – 25 pedigree Charolais females along with 60 commercial cows mixed between Limousin, Simmental and British Blue females, all of which will go to a Charolais bull. 50 store cattle bought in October to sell in April as forward stores. Up to 720 breeding ewes between Mules and Texel crosses are also on the farm.

Acreage – 370 acres at Burnside of Whitefield, with an additional 150 acres of seasonal lets split between summer and winter.

Who is involved – Father and son duo, Eric and Ellis. Ellis’ brother, Nicol is in the whisky industry and helps whenever he can. An additional lamber is employed in April.

On the spot questions

Best investment: A trained collie dog for Ellis has been a must! Eric’s time has been saved with the purchase of a Keltec bale slice for filling the feed wagon.

Best advice: If you put the work in at the start you will be rewarded for it in the end.

Biggest achievement: For Ellis to date was winning the National Charolais stockjudging competition, qualifying to represent the British Charolais Society in Canada. For Eric, winning a championship at the Royal Highland Show and personally a proud father of four and grandpa of four, with two more grandchildren due in 2021.

What do you miss most about the current lockdown restrictions: Socialising with friends, the summer shows, especially Turriff Show and the Royal Highland Show.

How are you diversifying: Four 20kW wind turbines.