THE SCOTTISH Farmer recently caught up with beef producer Peter Kennedy, of Dunans, Glendaruel, Dunoon, to hear how this spring's calving season has been for him.

So, how has calving been going?

So far, this has been one of the best calvings we have ever had, which is pure and simple down to the weather. We started in the middle of March, with all ours calved outside so if we get the weather it makes all the difference. It is night and day. We are making good progress with about 50 calved so far.

What is your calving set up?

We run 80 cows on the farm with 60 calved in spring and around 20 are calved in the back end. Out of the autumn calvers we have eight heifers, so around a 10% replacement rate. The heifers calve at around 30 months which we find is the best age for the breeds we work and the type of hill farm we have.

We calve on rough grazing hill ground, the smallest enclosed paddock is around 80 acres. We break the cows into two lots of thirty to make it easier to monitor them during calving. The calves and cows are then moved onto new parts of the hill once they are ready.

The cows get checked once a day at 6.30 in the morning then we return again if we see anything coming on. There is a small shed so we can take in a few cows if they need attention, but most of the cattle will never be inside in their lives. They have plenty space as we run to around 4000 acres split over four sites on a combination of owned, tenanted and contract farmed. For better ground we have around 200 acres of in-bye ground.

How do your handle the cows and calves outside?

During calving we run the cows and calves through our handling system once they are over a week old. This I find is the best age, old enough to walk beside their mothers but still small enough to handle tagging. We try to use polled bulls, but if there are any horns we use paste which works well for us.

How do you prepare the cows for calving?

It is a hill system so the cows only get fed silage from Christmas onwards and a pre calver block from the middle of January. The only other supplement is a pre bulling bucket which goes out after we have four or five calves on the ground.

We make our own home made silage from 35 acres of grass cut once. From this we get between 350 to 400 bales. We do it all ourselves with our Kuhn mower, Welger round baler and McHale wrapper.

The bulls are wintered with the cows then we take them out until they need to go back in on the first of June. Our Salers bull is from the Martins at Swinglees in Ayrshire and our Charolais bulls from Ian Miller at Lochend, Port of Menteith. We get our replacements as suckled calves at Oban mart. We find cows have to be bred in Argyll to do well. Remember we get between 100 to 110 inches (255cm to 280cm) of rain each year. But the cows thrive – most of our cows would get to 12 to 14 years old. But I’ve seen me think a cow is looking thin and check her age in the records and she turns out to be 18.

What sort of breeds do you work?

All our cows at the moment are Shorthorn cross Highland. We then put them to an easy calving Charolais bull. This gives us the nice mustard coloured calves which are popular with Aberdeenshire buyers.

We have started putting our heifers to a Salers bull for easy calving and to try the offspring as replacements for the herd. We have the first of them calving this August so I will be interested to see how they turn out.

Where do you sell your calves?

We sell our calves at six months old at the October sale in Dalmally mart. We sold 50 last year and we got a top price of £3.20/kg for the bullocks and £2.86/kg for the heifers. They are usually around 250kg to 270kg going into the ring. We have them on creep from the start of August, we use Prime Rearer 16 + Levucell from For Farmers. Input costs are going up here like the rest of Scotland, but we had to add on £75/t to anything we get hauled in, despite only being an hour and a half from Glasgow. We are treated like a distant island here in Argyll.

Who is all on the team?

It is just myself and my wife who work the farm mainly. My son, Finan, has been home since 2019 but he is off to start a mechanic apprenticeship this week. I have two boys who are both keen to do farming but I have encouraged them to also get a trade under their belt too. My other son Conor was on the farm for a year after he left school in 2017. He is now a joiner.

Any advice for someone young or new to cattle farming?

I started with the wife in 1996, with six cows, and my advice is you need to be willing to start small and take on opportunities others won't take on. After buying our 1400 acres hill farm I still worked cutting timber with a chainsaw for the next 15 years to pay the loan off. You can' expect the farm with a new tractor and a good shed from day one.