An extremely successful career in aquaculture spanning more than 30 years, has enabled Karl Scott to follow his dream – owning a farm and pedigree herd of Aberdeen-Angus, based just outside Aberdeen.

“From a very young age, I dreamt of owning a farm, seeing black cattle on green grass. However, pulling back completely from the aquaculture industry was not easy,” said Karl.

Firstly, it is difficult to find people with his experience and expertise in the relatively niche industry of aquaculture, and secondly the 160-acre farm he and his wife, Cristina, purchased in 2014, on the banks of Deveron river, required significant improvements.

He fell in love with the Aberdeen-Angus breed and the Foggie Aberdeen-Angus herd was established in 2015, and now has numbers in excess of 60 cattle.

“Aberdeen-Angus was the obvious choice living in the heart of Aberdeenshire, which combined with the breed’s native traits – the ability to be out-wintered, utilise natural woodland, and thrive on winter fodder. That plus ease of fleshing and management meant nothing came close in deciding which breed to concentrate on,” said Karl, whose prior experience in production guides him when managing the farm.

“We find that the principles are similar between agriculture and aquaculture, especially the key drivers and focus when it comes to getting the best from your stock,” added Karl, who also set up his own company, Maritime Aqua, offering equipment and advising others in the aquaculture industry within Scotland, Australia and the Mediterranean.

“I needed a change and wanted to do something for myself, ambitious to get back to being hands on and applying my knowledge to something I was always passionate about,” said Karl.

“Having managed production of up to 70,000 tonnes of salmon per year for Marine Harvest in Scotland, the largest salmon farming company worldwide, I learnt that environment, feed, genetics and consequent health status are key factors for a healthy, happy and productive herd. Being proactive, focus on feed efficiency, anticipating future challenges and managing risk in advance are also vital in efficient production.

“The past five years have been dedicated day and night, seven days a week to reaching our herd goals,” said Karl, who started by improving the farm which had suffered from neglect for many years.

Being new into farming didn’t faze him or his wife. Karl’s ancestors had been crofters in the Shetland Islands, and he grew up on his grandparents’ croft. His wife, Cristina, is a doctor but also comes from a long-established farming family and grew up around animals, crops and vineyards, in her native Romania.

Although Karl admitted to at times missing fish farming and the people he has known and worked with most of his life, he is content, even if farming is lonely at times. He feels happiest when surrounded by his cows, who have a unique advantage over his old mates – ‘the cows don’t answer back.’

“It has always been a dream of mine to own and manage my own cattle herd so it seemed natural to stay within the circles of food production and make the leap from the sea to a new way of life on land,” added Karl.

Starting up the herd saw the initial purchase of the six foundation heifers in June, 2015, from Robert and Anne Robertson, of the Culrain herd.

“Our criteria for the foundation stock was simple – proven females, elite health status with strong maternal traits, feminine looking, great temperament, moderate size that perform efficiently on a forage-only diet,” said Karl.

Pleased with the initial results, the Foggie herd secured another nine females from the same herd.

Along the way. they also added female lines from Craigour, Weeton, and the Oakchurch herd, notably Donna R221, an ET-bred heifer, lastly adding two females from the Mosshall herd. Several of the cows have been flushed and embryos retained, with the help of AB Breeding.

“One purchase I will never forget was Evelyn from Culrain – with a heifer calf at foot. She wasn’t an easy purchase as it involved a good bottle of Scotch, and a deal struck late in the evening, with signatures that neither of us could recognise the next morning.

“The cow and her heifer calf were delivered to the farm a few days later and the heifer calf has given us our best heifer calf to date,” said Karl.

The best stock bull to date has been Blelack Kanny Lad, which was purchased from Neil and Graeme Massie.

“He has bred exceptionally over the years for us, and is still in great shape,” commented Karl.

This year’s stock bull came in the form of Retties Lazy River, purchased from Perthshire breeders, Richard and Carol Rettie. “We are excited to see his offspring, he is the perfect bull. Buying him was a no brainer.”

Karl is not a fan of pushing his cattle with concentrate feeding and while young bulls are not pushed, with the help of Karl’s knowledge in nutrition, they are fed a bespoke diet from Galloway and Macleod, alongside ad-lib fodder. All females are provided forages based only on grass and whole crop to maximise fertility.

Calving takes place all year round, the majority calf outdoors, with heifers calving at 30-month-old.

“This ensures the cows are mature enough, produce milk and get back into calving quickly,” said Karl. Heifers and young bulls are out-wintered, with late grazing in their woodlands and forage-fed – the principle being to keep animals healthy, maximum mobility and utilise the ground as much as possible.

A stickler for breeding the best, Karl is also aware than not all cattle have the potential to sell for breeding, with those failing to make the grade sold direct to Scotbeef, Inverurie.

“The pedigree bull trade is one you need to work your way up to, building a reputation and integrity in order to succeed. Since we started selling, we’ve successfully sold bulls for both pedigree and commercial use throughout Scotland, England, Wales and the Northern Islands,” said Karl.

“We did have bulls entered for last month’s bull sales at Stirling, but with videos and photographs online we have been able to sell them all,” added Karl, who had hoped to increase the profile of the Foggie herd by showing his cattle.

They’ve already come up with the goods too, winning red tickets with the bull calf, Foggie Edition at the Stars of the Future at Stirling and the Black Beauty Bonanza at Thainstone, last year, with assistance from freelance stocks person, Kim Brown.

“I am so grateful to Kim Brown, of KB Cattle Services, for her assistance and continued input. Her involvement has been instrumental in helping us get the Foggie Herd out there, for everyone to know and see.

“I am looking forward to being able to show cattle again, meet other breeders and make friendships along the way,” said Karl, who was planning on going to the Royal Highland Show this year, as well as many local shows and all of the calf shows in the back end of the year.

But, as ever, Karl is never put off….

“We plan to boost our herd numbers, utilising the embryos collected to improve on our female foundations and achieve our goals. I strive to build a reputation for supplying pedigree cattle that perform well, and to create a client base with new and repeat customers.

“Covid-19 has taught the economy a lot about producing food and supporting local businesses, and the huge emphasis on food miles. It is essential this follows on after the pandemic, and is not just a phase,” Karl added.

Farm facts:

Number of cattle: 60+

Acres: 160

How long have you been in the breed : Since 2015

Who is all involved – Karl, wife, Cristina, son, Darius (6) and daughter, Danika, studying veterinary medicine in Glasgow and has been staying on the farm during lockdown to lend a hand.

On the spot questions

Best investment: Handling Facilities and a Telehandler

Best advice ever received: Good bulls come and go.. productive females are the foundation to a successful herd … Keep an open mind / Every day is a school day.

Hobbies: Before I started farming … Clay pigeon shooting. Since then snapping pictures of cows and calves each day has become my life!

Biggest achievement to date

Achieving the age of 50 in good health and being in a position to adopt a five-year-old son with an opportunity to give him the same experiences I had as a child! Maybe we will leave out the two raw eggs mixed with fresh milk straight from the cow combination that my Gran would make me drink each morning.

Also feel privileged to have taken the leap from being successful in one food sector with 33 years of experience to hopefully make a go of another.

If you could change one thing, what would it be?

A more supportive, focused, driven and forward thinking approach from the government towards the produce grown in Scotland and the UK as a whole.. both on land and at sea.

A better education for kids in schools is needed on the importance of a healthy diet, where their food comes from and how it is produced, knowledge in respect of food wastage!