Aberdeen-Angus beef has been synonymous with superior eating quality for a good number of years now and this coupled with the breed’s ease of fleshing attributes off grass is attracting a new wave of commercial and pedigree breeders.
With margins cut to the bone in all sectors, the ability to reduce concentrate costs and sell the finished product at a premium, is more important than ever and the Angus breed can do just that, according to relatively new breeder, Andrew Hodge.
“When we sold off the dairy, we needed some sort of cattle to graze our permanent pasture and Aberdeen-Angus seemed the natural way to go because the breed has the brand name for quality,” he said.
“People already look to buy Angus beef – we just have to concentrate on producing more of the right article, so they continue to buy Angus,” added Andrew, who together with his wife, Jill and daughter Emma, live at Rulesmains, Duns, while number one daughter, Jayne, travels around the world with Trailfinders in Edinburgh.
Such is the demand for Aberdeen-Angus beef, that the premium paid by most of the processors at present is 15-20p per deadweight kg, meaning that the majority of such beef sells well over the £4 per dwkg bracket and within the same time scale as their continental rivals.
“Our pure Angus and Angus cross steers will finish within 16-17 months to produce carcase weights of 400kg with R and U grades and virtually all the heifers not retained as replacements are sold privately for breeding at a premium,” said Andrew.
Impressively, the Aberdeen-Angus cross young bulls from the dairy herd are able to finish in a shorter period of time and yield better killing out percentages than any continental cross dairy rivals.
Emma, who works full-time on this 1000-acre, mainly arable unit (which also rents/contracts a further 600 acres), pointed out that the family buy in 150-plus calves bred from bulls they have sold into dairy units to finish.
“We’ve tried British Blue and Limousin cross dairy calves from the dairy herd, but the Aberdeen-Angus cross calves always finish the best,” said Emma, who completed her university course three years ago to come back home to work.
“The calves are bought in batches of 20 as bull calves and you wouldn’t know they are from the dairy herd. Our Angus bulls finish within 16 months and produce R grade 350-420kg carcases, whereas the Limousin and Blue calves on the same diet failed to reach the same weights or grades,” she added, pointing out that the calves are bought in at three to four weeks of age.
They are from two units using Rulesmains Angus bulls and reared on an automatic milk feeder that was used to feed the dairy calves. These are housed in a completely new calf unit away from the main cattle buildings to reduce the risk of spreading disease.
At present, the farm is home to 90 pedigree Angus cows and a further 60 commercial cows, of which most are now home-bred. 
Initially, when the dairy cattle were sold, only commercial suckler cross cows were purchased along with an Angus bull from Nisbetmill, Jedburgh, to make use of the permanent pasture. 
However, as a real stockman with an eye for good cattle, it wasn’t long before Andrew, who in years gone by has lifted many top awards at major dairy shows with cattle from his well-known Rulesmains Ayrshire and Holstein herds, had to have a few pedigree animals.
“When we first went into the breed, it was purely as a hobby, so we bought in females from various herds and semen from several bulls, but looking back, that  wasn’t the best idea, as we ended up with so many different types of cattle,” he said.