Breeding livestock is in the blood of the Mairs from Kinnermit, Turriff, having bred record priced Suffolks from their Muiresk flock and dairy cattle in the Deveronside herd. But now, the family has turned their efforts to breeding the best of pedigree Shorthorns.

Since winding up the 370-cow dairy in 2017, the family embarked on an organic conversion scheme for the farm, and set up a new commercial and pedigree livestock enterprise. On 1000 acres of mostly grass they now run 700 Scotch and Cheviot Mules and 70 pedigree Stabiliser cows. However, their pride and joy is the 20-strong herd of pedigree Shorthorns.

Parents Barclay and Lucy Mair alongside son Kenny and daughter Sally have embraced the breed since the first cows arrived in 2015.

“We just all absolutely love them, I am almost obsessed,” admitted Kenny.

“The whole family love having them around the place. They bring great enjoyment to the three generations involved in the farm.”

The decision to breed Shorthorns was made at the Highland Show.

“We were down at the show without any livestock for the first time in years. I remember we all thought it wasn’t much fun and lacked purpose being there without any animals. So Mum and Sally decided to go round all the cattle lines and breed stands to see which stood out for them. We have plenty of experience breeding pedigree sheep and dairy cattle but we wanted to give beef cattle a go.

“Sally and Mum came back explaining that the Shorthorn Society was the friendliest and we all liked the look of the cows. You have to start with something you like to look at when picking a breed and they certainly are good looking animals.”

After a unanimous decision, the family established the Muiresk Shorthorn herd in 2015 with a cow and calf bought from the Stonehills herd and three in-calf heifers from Alvie Estate. The herd has grown steadily over the years to the 20 cows on farm today.

In the early years, the Mairs used AI which was easier when Lucy used to work for Genus and had pervious AI'd all the dairy cows at Kinnermit. Various bulls were used to include Fearn Godfather with Alvie Galaxy having had the biggest influence on the herd.

The most expensive cow and calf unit was Albion Jilt Emelia and her heifer calf Juaual Jilt Matriannia bought for 5200gns at Paul Braithwaite's Albion dispersal. Cows and heifers have also been bought from Glenisla, Meonside and Barwood.

Particular attention is always paid to the sire and dam of potential purchases to see how they performed in the show or sale ring with Kenny looking for a good balance between figures, locomotion and maternal traits.

One animal which always stood out was a heifer bought from the late Jack Ramsay of Millerston at Stirling in October 2017.

“She has been here four years now and given us a calf every year. She bred our top selling bull to date – Muiresk Northern Dancer which made 14,000gns at Stirling in February 2021.”

A former junior male champion in the 2019 Stars of the Future, Northern Dance was also a junior champion and reserve male in the Scottish Club’s virtual show in 2020.

The Mair’s stock bull, Alvie Galaxy, is also a former show bull, having stood reserve overall at the Great Yorkshire in 2014 and male champion at the Highland in 2015. He was bought as a seven-year-old from Alvie estate.

“We had our eye on him for some time,” explained Kenny. “He had sired the calves in the heifers we bought from Alvie when we established the herd. We like how the calves turned out and were keen to get more of his genetics in the herd.”

Galaxy has certainly proved his worth too being the sire of the most successful animals in the herd to include Muiresk Peroni which stood champion at the Stirling in October and sold for 4500gns to pedigree breeding to Podehole.

One of the key traits that appealed to the family in the early days was the Shorthorn's ability to survive on all terrain. “You can take our cows and put them on a heather hill and they will still rear a calf. Their adaptability is fantastic, I don’t think there is another breed that can compete on such a diversity of environments.”

At Kinnermit the Shorthorns and the Stabilisers follow a similar management system with the families based on proven genetics and both herds part of CHeCS scheme.

All calves are weighed at birth, at weaning and again at a year old. As a breeder, Kenny also scores cows at calving too which he thinks is important as the information helps the data become more reliable. “It is a bit extra work for the EBVs however the more data we input, the higher the accuracy of herd's EBVs.”

The Shorthorn's good maternal traits are well founded too. “We find they milk well and look after their calf. Calving has never been an issue here as there is oceans of room for the calves to come out.”

Kenny has has also been most impressed on the breed's ability to thrive on relatively modest feed rations. “Initially we didn’t realise how big the gap was between feeding a dairy cow and feeding a Shorthorn. The nutritional needs seem worlds apart.”

Cows are left out at grass as long as possible which usually means mid to late November in Aberdeenshire. Inside the cows go onto a diet of straw and pit silage with an easy calving mineral provided on the run up to calving.

Calving starts at the end of April with heifers calving at two years of age. Depending on the weather, cows are put out to grass once their calves have suckled and are steady on their feet.

“We have moved calving to later in April as we want to have bulls for the February sales. This is the sale we should be marketing our stock at."

Growing stock are fed a TMR of silage and home-grown cereals, with rations 'tweaked' for show and sale cattle to ensure the right feed balance when the farm is organic.

“We are working on perfecting the TMR when Shorthorns are so easy fleshing as we don’t want to 'over cook' them. We do however still want them to grow on well and one of the key parts is making decent silage,” said Kenny.

The farm makes around 1000t of silage fresh weight with fields averaging 7t/acre over two cuts. Working under the organic scheme means they can not apply inorganic fertiliser so silage fields are rotated to prevent taking too much out of the ground. Restrictions on wormers means that fields cannot be over grazed too.

It is not just the Mairs who think the breed is on the up – AHDB figures also show that Shorthorns are growing in popularity in the UK. The momentum is not just coming from farmers either but from consumers as demonstrated by the Morrisons shorthorn scheme.

“A big supermarket like that wouldn’t run a scheme with the breed unless they knew the quality of the beef was there for a premium product. The eating quality and intramuscular fat scores always come back well with the breed. If you get the spec right Woodheads will give you up to 30p/dwkg more which can come to more than £100 a beast.” argues Kenny.

The Mairs have plans to allow the herd to grow naturally by retaining heifers.

"Ultimately I think in 10 years time we would like to have between 50 to 60 pedigree cows. One thing we will need to be ready to buy is a new stock bull. Galaxy is nine-years-old and wont go on forever, he has been brilliant for our herd and replacing him is going to be hard."

This year the Mairs will be showing Shorthorns for the second time at the Highland with two bulls and a heifer bound for Ingliston.

“The Highland is the biggest show in Scotland, and in my opinion the best show of stock in the UK. I don’t think anyone could argue otherwise. If you win the Highland you are doing pretty well.”

FARM facts:

Land: 1000 acres of which 80% is ploughable, with the rest permanent pasture; 830 acres is in year four of a five-year organic conversion.

Cattle: 70 pedigree Stabiliser cows and 20 pedigree Beef Shorthorn cows, with all replacement heifers calving down at 24 months. Finishing bulls sold at 13 months, averaging 650-680kg liveweight and 370kg dead.

Sheep: 550 Scotch and Cheviot Mule ewes put to Suffolk tups; 200 Suffolk and Texel cross hoggs put to Beltex tups. February lambing indoors with all lambs finished off grass.

Crops: 30 acres of oats for in-lamb ewes and youngstock feed

Other: Land let for vegetable rotation (including carrots and potatoes).

On the spot

Favourite job on the farm? Turning stock out to grass in the spring

Best farm purchase? Alvie Galaxy

What do you do to relax off away from the farm? Play football. It’s only relaxing when we win!!

Where do you see yourself in 10 year’s time? Hopefully a progression in numbers and quality of the current breeding stock

If you were not a farmer what job would you have? Defiantly not an office job! That’s far too boring!

Favourite farming memory? Tough to pick one but my favourite Highland Show memory was getting reserve champion Suffolk with a tup lamb in 2014. He was a young lamb so didn’t expect him to do so well.

When did you know you wanted to be a farmer? From when I realised I was never going to be good enough to play football for Man United!