BREEDING top quality store cattle with superior shape and bumper back-ends which will attract premium prices in the market place is the aim of the game for Aberdeenshire farmer, Gavin Greenlaw and his fiance, Jenna Whyte, who like many other beef producers in the area are gearing up for the first show of the year, the Royal Northern Spring Show. 
Despite this being a fairly new enterprise for the couple, Gavin and Jenna who are based at Balgairn Farms, Ballater, and rent 300 acres from Invercauld Estate, have seen increased margins from their 80-strong cow herd which mainly consists of Limousin cross British Blue cows bulled to Charolais, Limousin and British Blue bulls, and which are outwintered all year round. 
“The Limousin cross British Blue cow will always give you a good, shapey calf at the end of the day,” said Gavin, who along with Jenna, runs a newly established pedigree British Blue herd which is already proving to be just as successful. 
“It is a high maintenance type of cow as we do find we are calving most of them ourselves but at the end of the day we are getting fairly decent calves and you need a bit of shape about the calves for them to sell well. We like the British Blue for its good temperament and when crossed with the easy calving Limousin, the British Blue puts more milk into the Limousin cross cow.”

The Scottish Farmer:

Plenty width and shape in these two stots which are destined for the Royal Northern Spring Show         

Backing up those statements, Jenna, who is equally as passionate about the breeds they use, added: “This is our typical kind of cow and we find it works for us. If we can produce a calf that can hit the £1000 mark at 11-months-old, then we can’t ask for much more.”
Last year, when sold through Aberdeen and Northern Marts’ Thainstone Centre, progeny from the spring-calving herd, which begins calving at the end of February and are sold as yearlings in March, saw stots average 410kg and 260p per kg or £1068, while heifers levelled at 407kg and 247p or £1005. They peaked at £1080 or 260p per kg for a heifer weighing 416kg. 
Furthermore, their similarly aged calves sold at the end of September from the autumn-calving herd also met a solid commercial trade when stots averaged 446kg and 230p or £1028, with heifers at 417kg and 230p or £960. Top prices in the batch included a Charolais cross stot at 478kg and £1190, while a 426kg Limousin cross British Blue heifer made £1070. 
It’s the autumn-born calves which really prove their worth though as they never see a building before being sold. Calved and wintered outside, they are weaned at the end of July and receive creep feed before they head off to Thainstone in September. Spring calves however are weaned at the end of December due to poor weather and once inside having had the creep feeder from August onwards, they are introduced to a barley blend from East Coast Viners, supplemented with silage. 
Notably, some of the best calves sold through the store ring were sired by the Limousin, Culnagechan Idaho, a yearling bull bought at Carlisle in May, 2014, and the Charolais bull, Drumlone Harvey. Devastatingly though, Idaho hurt himself and this led to the couple buying the the McLarens’ nine-year-old stock bull, Lodge Dannyboy, from Classlochie, Kinross, which impressively managed to bull 31 of the 32 spring-calving cows which are due to calve at the end of this month. 
Easy kept, as well as being outside all year round, spring-calving cows are given ad-lib silage and then onto hay two months before calving which has helped ease of calving massively. Similarly, the back-end cows are also on ad-lib silage but for that extra boost, they’re given barley in November when the bulls go out. 

The Scottish Farmer:

Pictured before it was fully broken in is the February-born stot by Powerhouse Italic, out of a Limousin cross British Blue cow         

While at least 10 heifers are kept each year as replacements, the majority of them are used firstly as recipients for embryos for the British Blue herd. Consequently, if they don’t hold, they are put into the commercial herd and bulled to the Limousin.  
“In the past we were buying in recipients for our embryos, but we found when using bought in-stock, they weren’t holding the same success,” commented Jenna, who praised the Moo Call gadget which is used for calving heifers and pures inside.  
“Although the Limousin is easy calving on the heifers, we’ve found if the mother has a bad temperament, it rubs off on the calve.
“We have a few slender built cows which are ¾ Limousins and we find they’re a bit more sparky. Bulling them to the Blue helps take that spark out and gives a thicker calf too.”
Gavin added: “Anything with a bad temperament or barren cows go straight down the road and are culled at Thainstone, likewise with cows which have had a couple bad calvings. They’re still worth a penny though as cull cows in the past have made £1300.”
Outwith the commercial herd, the pedigree herd of British Blues, which numbers just three females, was established in 2014 with the purchase of Orkwolf Blues Freda, a female bought privately from Orkney breeder, Philip Collins, while another which has made a real stamp on the herd is the embryo Tweeddale Hawkeye, by Dafydd D’Ochain, bought privately.
Keen to increase numbers and hoping to be able to use their own home-bred bulls as sires, several flushes have proved successful including the first daughter of Tweeddale Hawkeye – Greenlaw Kiara – a heifer which stood champion at both Banchory and Tarland. More impressively though, at the beginning of this month, Kiara was flushed to Mountjoy Utopia and Tenance de la Praule, giving seven grade A embryos, five which have been implanted and two which have gone to storage. Her first calves are due at the end of April to Twyning Ash Vaughan and Solway View Dynamite.
Not only has the Greenlaw British Blue herd produced a number of winning tickets at local shows for the duo but has also given them a head start in the sale ring. Last May, at Carlisle, they sold their first ever bull, Greenlaw Kovu for 5600gns. Having stood reserve senior male at Stars of the Future, he is an AI son of Twyning Ash Vaughan, out of Tweeddale Galaxy which was bought at the Tweeddale dispersal. 
Like most who are keen to get a step up on the agricultural ladder, both Gavin and Jenna are equally passionate about their farming enterprise and are keen to expand and increase the commercial suckler herd to 150. However, this does mean they would need more ground and a steading.  
“In terms of stock numbers, we are at our maximum capacity for the number of acres we have. At present, we our renting a shed nearby to house heifers and pure cattle when calving and the spring-born calves before they are sold. 
“The spring-calving cows and calves are grazed in the summer on 50 acres which is a half-an-hour drive away, making it timely and costly on fuel. We also have to buy in all straw, silage and of course other feeds which is costly, so to be able to produce that at home would cut costs massively,” commented Gavin.

The Scottish Farmer:

This pedigree Limousin cow and calf outfit was bought at Thainstone from the Youngson’s Ythanvale herd          

But, while the couple remains hopeful on securing another unit, they are busy preparing for their second year of showing at the Royal Northern Spring Show. Having taken home a fourth prize rosette last year, in what was an extremely strong class, this year Gavin and Jenna are more hopeful with their two home-bred entries which include a Limousin cross February-born stot by Powerhouse Italic, and an April-born Charolais cross stot by Drumlone Harvey.  
“Showing at an event like the Spring Show is a great way to get your name out there. It’s the first show of the year and there is always a large turnout of buyers from all over the country.  Our Facebook page, which is full of pictures of the cattle and updates on what we are doing, certainly generates interest too,” concluded Jenna.
If you fancy a peek at Gavin and Jenna’s entries for the Spring Show, then head over to their regularly updated Facebook page – G and J Greenlaw.