Maximising profit margins in an era of ever diminishing returns is never easy especially when costs of production have already been stripped to the bone, but, introduce another sire breed with improved daily liveweight gains and the situation can look a lot brighter.

While David and Isabel Richardson already ran a tight ship selling quality beef calves straight off their mothers, the decision by son Ian to introduce the Charolais has made them all sit up and take notice, producing calves with superior weight gain and premium prices.

“The first Charolais bought was a spur of the moment decision at a breeding sale at St Boswells and he was paid for in his first two calves,” said Ian. “His first bullock and heifer calves sold for £1120 and £1130 at six-months of age and the bull only cost £1800 in 2010.

Notably, the Upper Samieston calves been selling pretty well ever since too, producing some of the top priced calves at the suckled calf sale at United Auctions, Stirling, at the end of October, where up to 170 of various breeds and crosses are cashed in one day – straight off their mothers.

Last year, their spring-born Charolais heifers sold off this 1650-acre mixed farming enterprise just outside Jedburgh, averaged £770 per head, while the bullocks cashed in at £870 with an average weight of 310kg. Their top pen of seven Charolais bullocks weighed 327kg and sold at £920 per head or 281.34p per kg.

“Charolais are the main payers here because the heifer is a sellable animal at any time. A Charolais heifer is always heavier and worth just as much as a Limousin bullock sold straight off its mother,” Ian said.

“Our Charolais crosses will be 15-20kg heavier than the rest of the cross-bred calves and they’re fed and reared the exact same way, with all having access to a creep feed from the beginning of July onwards.

Virtually all are sold the day they are speaned as this is the most profitable time for us to cash them in when we don’t have the shed space to keep them through the winter,” he added.

Show winners into the bargain, the father and son duo have also produced the pre-sale show champion at United Auctions, Stirling, for the past five years in succession, of which four of the five years were with Charolais crosses.

Ian added: “Nothing looks or sells as well as a Charolais cross calf in the market place. A modern day Charolais is just a white Limousin with extra weight, and it’s also a lot quieter than most other breeds or crosses.”

Up until 2010, when the first white, a Greenall bull, from nearby breeder, John Green, was purchased, the business ran 10 Limousin and two Aberdeen Angus bulls for its 400 spring-calving Aberdeen-Angus and Limousin cross cow herd and 40 similarly-bred autumn calvers.

Now however, the farm is home to four Aberdeen-Angus, one Simmental, two Limousins, a Limousin cross British Blue bull and five Charolais bulls, of which the first two, Greenall Eurostar and another bought the same year from the John Green, are still going strong.

Heifers which calve at two years of age and second calvers are mostly bulled to Limousins, although a Charolais has been used without any calving problems. Limousin cross cows are put to an Angus and all Angus cross cows are bulled by a Charolais.

Calving Charolais cross calves has never caused any problems either, even for the heifers.

“We have never had to caesarean a Charolais and we certainly don’t have any problems calving the Charolais. If anything, we’ll pull more black calves than white,” said Ian who has bought Charolais bulls with calving figures from anything from -8 to -18 in the past.

“We never look to buy expensive bulls - I think the most we’ve ever spent is 5500gns. We just look for a good shapey bull with plenty of length. We don’t go for the biggest of bulls because our cows are just 600-700kg. We like long bulls and bulls that are good on their legs with a good backside.”

And while Ian and David do look at growth rate figures, they find judging calving ease by eye more effective, when buying either privately or at the market. They do however avoid heavy-boned bulls and those that are particularly strong in the fore-end.

Living in the Oxnam Valley and in a good grass-growing area, the boys are able to make maximum use of the green stuff too and are fortunate in that they don’t have to feed any concentrates to cows outside post calving in the spring.

In fact, the only breeding females that receive additional feed are in-calf and calved heifers. The former are fed a kg of home grown bruised barley through until mid-February which is a month pre calving, while the latter receive up to 2kg per head per day for the same period.

Cows on the other hand, are provided the same silage and straw mixture as the heifers and fed for maintenance only as soon as they come inside for the winter.

Lifeline mineral buckets are nevertheless provided on the run up to calving, which have increased the vigour of all calves born at birth to such an extent that very few of the calves have had to be suckled in recent years. Which is probably just as well given the fact Ian and David are the only two working full time here, with free-lance assistance and Ian’s wife Georgina helping out at busy times. As it is, Georgina does most of the lambing of the 550 Cheviot, Cheviot Mule and Texel cross Cheviot Mules, which out with female replacements, are all sold finished off grass.

Bulls go out about June 10 each year, for a strict period of 11 weeks. This concentrated calving period results in more than 200 cows calving within the first three weeks from March 15, with the remaining 200 calving between April and the end of May.

With few if any calving problems, and heifers calving at two years of age, fertility has never been an issue with the result being that last year’s calf crop was an impressive 92% at speaning, which includes the 6-7% barren. Cows are nevertheless vaccinated for BVD and all calves have their navels dipped in iodine and are given a probiotic tube at birth.

With manpower extremely limited, two types of tags are used on calves for ease of management – large Roxan primary tags, hand written Ian, and a secondary small colour coded button tag to match that of the sire are used.

This means that all calves are easy to identify on both the sire and the dam side. All cows are also freeze-branded just in case any lose their tags.

Such tags also make life a lot simpler when it comes to sale time too as

the large hand written management tags enables identifying the calf and it’s mother a lot simpler, when they have to be carted from the field to the farm steading.

Add in the sheep; 200 acres of cereals and a further 50 acres of wholecrop, which is all attended to in house, with the exception of crop spraying, and the 40-50acres of re-seed done every year and there is never a dull moment on this busy farm.

Over the years, the boys have also constructed several new sheds to house their ever expanding cow herd, which has increased from 150 – when the family moved out of the 300-acre unit at Dalbeattie in 1988 to purchase Upper Samieston, which was bolstered by the acquisition of a neighbouring 500acre unit in 2006, a long with the tenancy of another farm nearby in more recent years – to 440cows.

The plan is to get bigger too and increase cow numbers to nearer 500 with Ian and Georgina’s two sons, Thomas (7) and Adam (5), growing up fast. And, by calving more to the Charolais in the spring to sell straight off their mothers in the back-end they aim not only to maximise the growth rates of the calves but also profit margins …