Passion, enthusiasm and determination are characteristics required to succeed in any business and they certainly spring to mind at East Brackenridge, Strathaven, where Hugh and Liz Neilson and son Andrew, are dedicated to breeding nothing but the best from their Overside Holstein herd.

The Scottish Farmer:

The farm is home to 350 pedigree cows which are housed all year round for improved management and higher yields. Milked three times a day, the herd boasts an average yield of 11,900kg at 3.35%P and 4.01% BF. Cows average 39litres per day with a 2.8kg BF and P per day.

“We target 1000kg BF and P per cow per year, thereby ensuring a good healthy cow is profitable cow and, at present, we are on track to achieve that.

“Although we are not paid on components, maintaining these figures ensures healthy, happy cows with our aim being to get cows to eat more silage with less concentrate feeds.

The Scottish Farmer:

Neilsons spend time in getting the silage ration right for their cows   Ref:RH0905200016 

“Eating more higher quality silage provides a better balance for the cow, and milk with higher components, so we are now looking to feed a TMR twice a day to increase dry matter intakes,” said Andrew, adding that the herd currently boasts 1.6 feed conversion efficiency.

“Everything we do is for the cow, the way we work on a daily basis is focused on the cow and what is best for her whether it be the environment, cow comfort and how to reduce their overall stress levels.”

The Scottish Farmer:

Some of the 300 strong milking herd at the feed barrier tucking into the home made silage ration   Ref:RH0905200015  

The family has also made a handful of changes to the housing shed to improve overall productivity and efficiency. Cubicle sizes have been increased and water beds introduced with sawdust for improved comfort, while grooved slated passages reduce the risk of slippage.

LED lights have been installed in what is a low roof cow shed, for a lighter, brighter environment.

“The lights have been a great investment for us, they replicate the day light for 16 hours of the day and it has helped improve cow fertility and production. It is a totally different environment being in a shed with LED lighting compared a shed with ordinary lighting.

In addition, six, five-foot fans have been installed to help improve air flow during the summer months and reduce heat stress to help get round the dip in the fertility as well as fresh cows not hitting the mark, during the warmest summer months.

“We are also trying to record more data, because if you don’t record you can’t manage and improve on key performance,” said Andrew.

Calving takes place all year round with heifers now calving down at 23 months of age on average, due to improved young stock facility in that the heifers at a year old are contract reared at Curries of Carlinside.

The Scottish Farmer:

Young calves are fed by automatic feeder and have calf jackets to reduce the  chills and draughts.    Ref:RH0905200034  

Performance has been further improved by splitting the herd into four groups – first calved heifers, fresh calved, mid lactation and late lactation.

“Each group spends an hour and a half at the parlour between all three milkings. The fresh group is the most important one, to engage in the transition period and ensure cows are at their peak lactation when they should be. Dry cow management is one of the most important aspects ensuring optimal intakes in the dry group period is vital,” said Andrew.

The family is also fortunate to have a Tesco Muller contract, which has allowed them to invest for the future, which for them is in the actual cow.

“By always putting the cow first and doing everything right you get less problems in the end which leads to its own benefits. By following the protocols you get the results – We now are less reliant on antibiotics, have fewer lame cows and fewer calving problems,” said Andrew, who gets foot trimmer, David Gray, in every fortnight.

The Scottish Farmer:

Young heifers feeding on silage ration

The Neilsons look to have regular meetings with their vet, nutritionist and genus RMS technician, thereby ensuring the best health for cows at all times.

Their advice is coming to fruition too in improved fertility – 98% of the cows are served before 85 days with little intervention and 55% are PD d in calf by 100 days. Half are served with sexed semen with the remainder to beef semen.

As pedigree enthusiasts, Andrew and Hugh are always looking for good cows and females from good cow families which they look to showcase at shows throughout the year.

The calf shows – Scottish and the All Breeds All Britain – have been a real success for the family in recent years, with two calves qualifying each year for the All Britain for the past four years.

The Scottish Farmer:

Milking cows are housed indoors, water filled mats for cow comfort and pedometer system to monitor cow activity    Ref:RH0905200011 

“Although it is difficult to compete at the top level, if we have something good enough, we will take them to a few shows. Shows are not our main priority, but they are our shop window for getting our name out there as well as for selling bulls privately,” said Andrew, who took reserve champion at AgriScot in 2017 with Overside Alimar Amanda.

Most years, the farm looks to sell five bulls privately, from their various flushing programmes of high index cows. Some are also sold to AI companies to include Overside Flinch and Overside Wiltor Jaguar owned by Cogent and Genus respectively.

“Getting bulls into AI studs has become more difficult as genomic index has become more relevant.

“We always make sure that the bulls we sell are ones we would be willing to use on our own cows. We select bulls on genomics, functional type and production with emphasis on components and fertility,” explained Andrew.

The most prominent female lines in the herd are the Amanda’s, Dellia/Delight’s, Mae’s, Ruby’s, Crimson’s, Fleur’s, Rolls’ and Robin families.

However, they also aim to breed a functional, commercial cow with most of their surplus heifers sold to Alec Dunlop, Raithhill, every year.

The Scottish Farmer:

The Neilsons have invested in high quality, consistent lighting to help with milk production    Ref:RH0905200019 

Cows are vaccinated for BVD and Lepto and IBR, to maintain the farms hi-health status and Johne’s screen herd.

Outwith the family’s well-known Holstein herd, Andrew also runs his own small pedigree Texel flock under the Brackenridge prefix – a hobby which began in 2008 when he was still at school.

Although numbering just 10 pedigree ewes, he also does a bit of flushing and embryo work to bolster numbers after being inspired by the Clark family from Garngour, Lesmahagow.

By concentrating on the best of genetics, Andrew has also come up with the goods at Carlisle too, having sold one of the top priced ram lambs last year, at 15,000gns for Brackenridge Crown Royal.

Such is the quality of his flock, that he sells several privately too, with his best at £7500 being paid for the ram lamb, Brackenridge Cancun, which sold to the Curries from Carlinside.

The Scottish Farmer:

This ewe and lamb is the mother and half brother to Brackenridge Cancun which sold privately for £7500

Andrew’s brother, Alan is also a keen sheep enthusiast and rents a 150 acre farm a few miles away from the family farm where he runs his own enterprise of 450 commercial sheep. Last year he also set up a contract shearing business, which has grown this year, due to more British shearers needed this season. Alan also takes on contract shepherding, joinery, and some shed building!

Oldest brother, Craig has never been involved in the farming and now lives in Glasgow working in IT and cyber security sales while also running a property investment and development business.

The results the business can achieve is down to high quality reliable staff with the longest serving member, Sandy Jack working for the business for 42 years and more recently employing Jack Warnock, and milker, Jim Smith.


The Scottish Farmer:

Nice and relaxing, calves chill on the straw bedded pens   Ref:RH0905200032

It is nevertheless dairy farming that will always provide the ‘bread and butter’ for the Neilsons however, with milk prices fluctuating, it has made the family question their whole ethos.

“It is scary to see how volatile our industry is and how little safeguard and protection there is behind farmers especially during this pandemic. In the last few weeks milk prices have been thrashed and milk has been getting poured down the drain – how can this be sustainable for any dairy farmer?,” commented Andrew.

“As an industry we need to be processing more milk in the UK to help use the quantities of milk available. This is the time to be more self-sufficient than ever in what we eat and back our local farmers and suppliers instead of importing the huge amounts of cheese and butter along with everything else.

“With over production being a problem, it has a negative effect on the whole dairy industry – there does need to be a control on the production for the farmers to receive reasonable prices for their milk. If the milk price is good, it just encourages farmers to jump into dairy, which doesn’t help the future of the industry.

The Scottish Farmer:

“Farmers need to work on engaging transparency with the general public through communication – the number one platform for this is social media. There is constantly false information being showcased, and it is up to us farmers to display ‘our stories’ in the way we want it.

“Farmers should be proud of their farm 365 days of the year and should be happy for anyone to do a spot check, otherwise they shouldn’t be producing food for the public. At the end of the day if we don’t have the backing from the general public, we don’t have an industry.

“Despite this, we need to thrive as an industry and do all we can to save our livelihood, we strive on doing the best possible job that we can before getting any bigger, and our love for the cattle is the reason we are part of this industry,” concluded Andrew.


Farm Facts

  • Andrew is the fourth generation to farm at East Brackenridge
  • East Brackenridge now in partnership between – Hugh, Liz and son, Andrew
  • 350 pedigree Holstein cows, with 300 followers under the prefix of Overside
  • Farm is situated 800 feet above sea level
  • 350 acres owned with a further 50 acres rented
  • Cows are housed all year round
  • 50 acres of winter wheat are grown for whole crop
  • 30 x 30 herringbone parlour

On the Spot questions

  • Best investment: The lighting in the sheds, to ensure happier cows and increase fertility
  • Best advice ever received: “If you are going to do something do it right” or “You don’t need to be good at everything, if you surround yourself with people that are good at the rest”
  • Hobbies: “I golf in the summer, and when the winter falls, I take to the ice rink for curling. As well as still being involved in a number of Young Farmers events.”
  • Involvement in committees: “I have recently been elected as the Next Generation for the National Farmers Union Scotland (NFUS) which I am looking forward to pursing. This year I have also came off the Avondale Young Farmers committee after being heavily involved.”
  • Biggest achievement to date: Holstein UK’s president medal this year – awarded to a member who has made an outstanding contribution to the breed and their club – which would have led to a trip to Canada later in the year. Being crowned Young Farmer of the year in 2018 was also a huge achievement of mine.