IN an era of ever increasing costs of production, an unpredictable market and climate, and no guarantee of financial support, it’s little surprise that more and more of the country’s livestock farmers are looking to low maintenance beef and sheep breeds which can outweigh initial costs and make use of poorer performing ground. 
For some, that may mean going back to traditional hill breeds but for the Girvan family, who farm near Glenurquhart, Inverness, using the Stabiliser in their beef enterprise has not only produced an ideal breeding female for upland and hill ground, but also a commercially viable calf that’s easy fleshing and can finish just as quickly as some continental breeds. 

The Scottish Farmer:

A selection of cows with ET-bred calves and two- year-old heifers with calves at foot running with the bull Ref:RH200818012  

“We originally ran a herd of Limousin cross Aberdeen-Angus cows, but we were always looking to switch to a suckler cow that had a better temperament and a smaller frame that would still be easy fleshing and could survive on poorer ground,” said David, who farms 8000 acres across the family’s two upland/hill units, Corrimony and Buntait, with parents Lindsay and Maimie, wife Barbara, and their three children – Lucy (5), Angus (4) and Gregor (18-months-old).  
“The first Stabiliser bull came here 10 years ago from a breeder in the north of England and was crossed onto the original cows which were previously bulled to the Limousin, Aberdeen-Angus or Charolais. I’ve always been into EBV figures and that’s something which the Stabiliser boasts, yet is still a commercially run and low maintenance cow. 
“We still use the Charolais on a small amount of cows we don’t want to breed from for producing finished cattle, but found that we’re getting heavier weights at a year-old in pure Stabiliser calves than the Charolais crosses and Stabiliser crosses. They put more flesh on in the summertime and are, therefore, carrying more flesh in the winter,” added David. 
Almost always out-wintered on the hill, the quality of the 160-cow herd has improved quickly over the last few years through the use of American embryos and AI, and the purchase of 25 in-calf cows with calves at foot and 10 in-calf heifers from David Kirkpatrick, Auchenbainzie, Dumfries.

The Scottish Farmer:

Typical bulling heifers at Corrimony which ran with the bull for nine weeks      Ref:RH200818016

Vaccinated for BVD and lepto, they require little feeding. The cows are fed daily on a pot ale syrup-based diet and for ease of management they calve in grass fields nearby to the steading from mid-April onwards. The bull runs with cows for nine weeks, while heifers are kept with the bull for six weeks and calve at two-years-old inside.
While they cause little bother at calving time, David also pointed out that even those few cows which are still bulled to the Charolais are easy calved. Calves are weaned at five to six months of age and heifers which are suitable for breeding are kept on as replacements or sold as bulling heifers through the Stabiliser Cattle Company. 
Bull calves are usually kept entire for bull beef and finished at 14 to 15 months of age when fed on a silage-based diet until they’re 10-months-old and thereafter fed barley in hoppers. They’re sold to Woodhead Bros, Turriff, through the Stabiliser Cattle Company, and the last lot sold at £1350 weighing 360kg, with a premium received for those sold under 14 months. 

The Scottish Farmer:

Quality strong calves from this year’s crop                                                             Ref:RH200818010

The best draw of bulls at Corrimony are retained for breeding and this year the family used five home-bred yearlings on their own herd. They also sold three bulls off the farm and it’s hoped that with the bought in females from Auchenbainzie and the continual use of embryo transfer, they’ll be able to sell around 10 yearling bulls each year to other breeders.
“We’re doing a couple of experiments this year to try and save on feed costs by weaning half of the bulls onto grass in a rotational grazing system. They’ll then be wintered on fodder beet in the winter and then hopefully back onto grass in the March to finish at 16 months of age,” explained David, who added that they also cut a few of the bulls this year in hope of finishing them straight off grass at 18 to 20 months of age.
“The aim is to breed lower mature weight bulls and we’re selecting on low nett feed efficiency – stock that should eat less. We want to try and reduce the amount of feed that is needed to finish animals and feed less to easy fleshing cows in the winter so that they put more flesh on in the summer and therefore carry more flesh throughout the winter months.” 
With that in mind, the Girvans are hoping to rotational graze the majority of the livestock on the farm so that come summertime, there is nothing on the one field for more than three days.
While the beef enterprise at Corrimony has been altered to utilise poor ground and boost productivity, the family’s 1400-ewe flock does the same job thanks to the Lleyn, Highlander, New Zealand Suffolk or Exlana which in mid-April, outside. Fortunately, the Girvans can rely entirely on home-bred replacement females, while some tups are sourced from Innovis, with NZ Suffolks from the annual ram sale at Fearn Farm, Tain, and Lleyns from Inscheoch.

The Scottish Farmer:

Ewes from the 1400-strong flock lamb in mid-April and produce home-bred replacements                                                                               Ref:RH200818020 

“Since we took on our second unit we’ve managed to increase the size of the flock. Most of the ewes are backed by Lleyn genetics but we use the Highlander for putting hybrid vigour in replacements, while the Wiltshire Horn cross is put to the Exlana to increase wool shedding and lose horns.
“All replacements are home-bred and we put the NZ Suffolk over half of the flock as we find that cross produces vigorous lambs which are easily lambed, quick to suckle and grow fast,” explained David.  
This year, a reasonable number of the lambs were sold store and the first batch of 290 Suffolk crosses sold at the beginning of August averaged £56.70, while 100 pure Lleyn wedder lambs sold three weeks later cashed in at £55. 
“We would like to finish all lambs but are selling a few store due to receiving more of a premium for the Suffolk than the white-faced maternal lambs and until we can get them into a system where they’re finished quicker off grass. I’d like to see them all finished off that way and away before the tups go out, but it’s a case of having to improve the grass quality and introduce more red clover to the mix,” said David.  
Lambs are rotated every two days on silage aftermath and the first lot are usually finished off grass in mid-August, and sold direct to Woodhead Bros at an average of 18kg deadweight, producing U and R grades.  
Ewes, which often scan around the 160% mark, are usually wintered on swedes but in a bid to be more self-sufficient, fodder beet has been grown for ewes to thrive on before swedes. In a normal year, ewes are taken off swedes two to three weeks before lambing and then rotated on grass fields every three days.  

The Scottish Farmer:
“Rotational grazing does give you more work and take up more time but we find now that we can carry more stock on the same ground. Over the last three years we have increased our kg/livestock produced per hectare each year and feel we can continue to improve it while lowering our costs. Key to this will be continuing to improve our pasture with the use of both white and red clover and also trying to keep the quality of pasture throughout the grazing season,” said David.
He concluded: “In the next few years, I think we’ll see more and more farmers moving towards cattle and sheep breeds that require less skilled labour and 
which save on input costs. We need to try and make livestock farming viable, especially as the industry faces so much uncertainty.”
In the meantime, while Barbara is not working at her part-time primary teaching post in a school nearby, 
she is looking after her impressive crop of pumpkin plants also known as the Corrimony Pumpkin Patch which can be found on Facebook. Some 270 pumpkins have been planted on the farm in aid of the Ronald MacDonald House Charity which looked after their son, Angus, for a few months when he was poorly. 

Barbara and the family will be holding an open day on Saturday, October 27, for people who are keen to pick and buy their very own pumpkin for Halloween, but with so much interest from locals and even those further afield, a cancellation list has had to be put in place!