Sourcing an easy managed, easy calving cow that requires minimal inputs is far from straight forward when the industry is awash with various native and continentals, but by focussing on home-bred Sim Luings, the Simmers' are confident they have found the answer for their farming enterprise.

The family's 5000acres of mixed arable and grassland based at Backmuir Farm, Keith, and Mains of Cairnbrogie, Oldmeldrum, is home to some 600plus suckler cows, but with margins already cut to the bone and limited staff, such females have to be docile and be able to produce sufficient milk to rear a good calf every year.

Add to that the reduced disease incidence of home-bred females coupled with new pedigree herds of both Luings and Simmentals, and the family believes they now not only have a more productive enterprise but also one which will be more profitable long-term when they can sell quality breeding bulls and heifers.

In previous years, the family of Simon Simmers, brother Phil and his sons Reece and Andrew, relied upon various bought in cross-breds to include Simmental, Limousin and British Blue females that were mostly bulled to Charolais sires, with the resultant progeny either sold as stores or the prime.

However, in a bid to reduce costs of production and the amount of time required attending to such cows at calving, they looked into the possibility of the Luing female as an easy managed, hardy cow with the Simmental brought in for its increased size, growth rates, milkiness and mothering ability.

"Dad had a few Sim Luings in 2009, which proved to be easy managed as they calved themselves and had a good temperament, therefore it was no bother working with them. By breeding them to a Simmental, we hoped to get a bigger, milkier cow that could either be retained as a breeding female or sold, with the males sold finished as young bulls."

It might have been a long-term plan, but it is already yielding results, with home-bred Sim Luing cows producing Simmental cross bull calves that finish just as easily as the family's former Charolais-bred calves.

"You tend to get a better fat cover with the Simmental and they'll finish in 13-14 months – the same time as our previous Charolais cross bulls," Reece added pointing out that all are sold through Highland Meats, Saltcoats.

"After speaning, we put them on a silage-based diet with an ad-lib home-grown cereal mix introduced for the final six to eight weeks."

Pure-bred Luing males not suitable for breeding tend to finish a month later.

The first Luings purchased to breed Sim Luings, were acquired at Ted Fox's College Valley dispersal in 2012, when 88 females bought.

Several good Luing bulls have been bought over the years too to ensure quality home-bred replacements. These include the 17,000gns Harehead Savivata and the 7500gns Finlarg Scorpio, to name but a few, with herd numbers now up at 200.

A third of these are bred pure to breed replacement females with the remainder put to Simmental bulls with the female progeny destined for the 350-strong Sim Luing herd, of which all bar the heifers are put back to a Simmental. Sim Luing heifers calve around three years of age to a Luing bull, with all calving in the spring.

Andrew added: "Sim Luing cows are just so much easier kept and they're quieter to work with. They're also good on their feet, easy calved and should last longer. The Simmental cross calf produced is also quicker to get to its feet and suckle, which makes a huge difference.

"About 95% of the cows calve themselves and the heifers are good too. Last year we had 88 Sim Luing heifers and we only had to calve three of them of which two were coming backwards."

By joining the health scheme in 2017, the family's Luing herd is now Level 1 for Johnes while their smaller up and coming Simmental herd is Level 2.

Add to that the use of home-bred bulls from their Backmuir Simmental herd and fertility is much improved with barren rates well down on previous years. Overall herd productivity and profitability is also significantly improved.

But it is the ease of management of the family's new found suckler cow that is making the biggest difference.

Reece added: "Simmentals and Sim Luings are just so much quieter, and being a dual purpose breed, you can keep the females and the bulls as replacements, which makes for a much cheaper operation to run without the added risk of bringing in disease if you had to buy in replacements. We no longer have the same expense of insuring bought in bulls now either with only a select few purchased for the pedigree herds."

Instead, the vast majority of bulls used are home-bred.

"The Simmental is the ultimate dual purpose breed as kept pure they produce calves that can match the growth rates of the Charolais but at the same time, they have the milk and the maternal traits to make a good big commercial breeding female. Our Sim Luing cows will average 750kg and you need the size and power to produce calves that grow to a big weight at a young age."

It's the pedigree Simmental that takes pride of place at Backmuir though, with the herd now comprising 50 breeding females. Most of these were bought privately from Henry Widdicombe's Starline herd from Devon, either as in-calf cows or bulling heifers, with another three heifers purchased from Ross King, Wolfstar at a previous Stirling Bull Sale.

It is nevertheless the purchase of Jimmy McMillan's big heifer, Sterling FCUK Impulse, that is certainly helping to put their herd on the map though, having scooped several championships pre lockdown to include the supreme beef animal at the Scottish Beef Championships at Keith and the inter-breed beef honours at Turriff.

"We're aiming to breed Simmental cattle with power, good tops, legs, length and style while also maintaining the breed's fleshiness, growth rates, and good milky, maternal traits," said Reece.

They also look to buy and breed bulls that will suit both commercial and pedigree enterprises, having bought several top Simmental bulls in the past at United Auctions' Stirling Bull Sales that have been used on their Sim Luing cows and their pure-bred females. These include Islavale Gambler and Imperial bought for 13,000gns and 11,000gns, respectively and Wolfstar Jackaroo at 18,000gns

It's a policy which is beginning to see the fruits of their labour too with the family's first sale of bulls at Stirling from the Backmuir herd, in October past, witnessing top prices of 8000gns and 7000gns.

Backmuir King, one of four bulls entered for Stirling

Backmuir King, one of four bulls entered for Stirling

This time, the Simmers' have four bulls entered for the Stirling Sales all of which are sons of Islavale Hamilton.

Outwith the family's already busy home-bred cattle enterprises, Backmuir Livestock, a limited company established in 2012 is an even bigger operation which revolves around trading livestock from farm to farm and distributing to major meat companies and processors. It specialises in cull cows, cast bulls and prime cattle to include Aberdeen Angus, distributing to major UK outlets on a daily basis.

They also handle all classes of sheep for major meat companies alongside the breeding of the animals and the trading from farm to farm.

Home-bred Simmental bulls used on the Luing and the Sim-Luing herds

Home-bred Simmental bulls used on the Luing and the Sim-Luing herds

Home grown cereals play a vital role in reducing costs of production too, with 2500 acres of grain grown for the distillery market as malting barley, with the remainder used as feed. All arable operations at are carried out between the family and additional six full time members of staff with a fleet of modern equipment.

In a bid to reduce their carbon footprint, the Simmers also installed a biomass unit at Backmuir in 2017 to produce heat mainly to operate the grain dryer along with heating the Simmers Contracts’ farm workshops and machinery stores – the family's structural steel business that operates throughout the whole of Scotland.

FARM facts:

Business size: Backmuir Trading founded in 1982, operating 5000acres at Backmuir, Keith and Mains of Cairnbrogie, Oldmeldrum in Aberdeenshire.

Farm staff: Seven full time

Cattle numbers: 600 cow herd based on 200 pure-bred Luings, 350 home-bred Sim Luings and 50 pedigree Simmentals, to breed home-bred replacements and commercial and pedigree bulls and heifers to sell.

Arable: 2500acres All malting barley varieties with high nitrogen samples retained for home grown feed.

ONTHE spot:

Best investment? "Purchase of our own machinery which allows us to carry out all work required on farm instead of having to wait for contractors."

Best advice? "Follow your own instincts when making decisions."

Biggest achievement? "Showing Sterling Fcuk Impulse to win at the Royal Highland, the Scottish National, Turriff and Keith."

Where would you like to be in 2030? "Hopefully doing more of the same having sold bulls and females that have done well for others."

Favourite restaurant? "Miller and Carter, Aberdeen."