ATTENTION to detail, coupled with increasing reliance on modern technology, has not only produced an extremely efficient unit at Fans Farm, but also one that consistently ranks amongst the top 33% of all beef farms in Scotland.
Located just outside Earlston, in the Scottish Borders, this home-produced beef and arable unit farmed by Douglas and Kelda Stewart, relies on some 2400+acres to grow winter wheat, barley and oats and spring barley. 
In addition, 350 acres are set aside to a specialist seed potato enterprise, selling high health seed through the co-operative Saltire Seed, to customers in England, Europe, Egypt and other countries.
At the other end of the scale, the cattle side of the business comprises a closed herd of 400 Aberdeen-Angus cows producing prime Angus cross progeny finished predominantly on home-grown feeds which are sold through Scotbeef at Bridge of Allan and AK Stoddart, Ayr.
Virtually self-sufficient, the only complete bought-in feeds include high magnesium rolls for the cows when they are turned out in the spring, and soya which is used as a protein supplement for the calves.
“The beef enterprise is integral to our mixed farming operation and is profitable in its own right,” said Douglas, who manages the farming business with his wife Kelda, father Graham and children, Holly and Archie. 
“We aim to make the maximum use of the farm’s resources,” he said adding that manure produced from the cattle plays an important part in increasing the organic matter and fertility in soils and ultimately, grass and crop yields.
Key to the increased levels of efficiency here is the fact that all replacements are home-bred and finishing cattle are weighed on a regular basis. Add to that electronic tags and Douglas is confident the efficiency of his beef unit has been further improved.
“We have been breeding our own replacements for the past 20-25 years and we now have a uniform herd of cows with improved health and fertility, rather than a collection of cows,” he said.
This compares to the farm’s previous herd of bought in dairy cross cows, most of which were bulled to a Charolais.
As former pedigree Aberdeen-Angus breeders, the family had no doubt as to what breed to rely on for an entirely commercial unit.
“Angus cows are more easily handled as they have a better temperament,” said Douglas. “They also have shorter gestation period and as a result, fewer calving difficulties.”
However, the breed does have to work here, as heifers selected for breeding have to be big enough to bull at 15 months of age. Admittedly, these are better treated to ensure maximum growth rates, but they also have to have good feet and legs, udders and temperament.
This strict management regime and a ruthless culling policy has nevertheless resulted in a tight calving period with 92-93% of calves born in the first six weeks. All cows now calve in April and May too due to the expanding seed potato business and of course harvest of the cereal crops in the back-end.
Cows are however, pregnancy tested in October with all barren cows sold fat.
The only bought in cattle include stock Aberdeen-Angus bulls purchased privately from the nearby unit of John and Marion Tilson’s Wedderlie herd.
Douglas added: “We buy bulls in a leaner condition than you would expect to buy at auction, which means they are ready to work, their feet are right and they last longer.”
Emphasis is placed on maternal traits, particularly calving ease and milk as well as growth rate. All bulls are also semen tested every year including young bulls before purchase. Thorough examination of feet, body condition, testicles and sheath is also carried out before turn-out to ensure all bulls are fit to work when they remain out with the cows for eight weeks. Mature bulls are run with 50-55 cows while the younger bulls are turned out with around 20 cows.
The shorter gestation period of the Angus calf means that very few calvings are assisted and those that are, are carefully recorded and given a score which determines whether they are kept for further breeding or culled. In the best year to date, only 24 cows out of 400 required assistance at birth and the vet was never on the farm during calving.
A calving percentage as high as 95% of cows put to the bull has been achieved in some years which compares to 80-85% previously when problems such as campylobacter were common place due to sharing bulls and buying in replacement females.
Health status has also improved with the herd being a member of the Premium Health scheme and BVD accredited. Since the Stewarts first started blood testing for Johne’s in 2006, culling of all positive cows has been ruthless, with the result that only two positives were recorded last year and one this year.
High health standards are also maintained during calving with dry cows and newly calved cows kept clean throughout with the use of ample amounts of straw in well-drained buildings. Cows and calves are usually turned out to grass usually within 24 hours of calving.