Sir, – Last Sunday I was sat in my Land Rover looking at a bit of fencing with the tell-tale black hair tufts my cows leave when they go free range! I hate fencing and like my cows, ignore barriers.

The radio was on so tuned into the gaelic piping programme, Crunluaith, relaxed and read through my copy of The SF. On a gloriously warm sunny afternoon on a sheltered hillside listening to good piping, I nearly forgot all the other pressures we are under.

Earlier that day the estate owner asked me why do you keep cows? He sold off all of his last year. Jim Brown’s piece 'If they want more beef' asked the same question. Why do we keep cattle? If they aren’t paying, why do we have them?

Scottish farmers have a love/hate relationship with beef cattle. We all love them really, but hate the financial risks, low, non-existent returns or losses we often experience with them.

So why we got them? Because we’ve always had them. Yet suckler cow numbers are down 25% in 10 years says Jim Brown. Somebody, somewhere, is making money out of beef, but who?

Everybody I speak to says its about numbers, lots of head, small return per animal in the finishing game. I suspect the retail beef price has been collectively suppressed and below real market price in the big retailers for some time.

The Competition and Markets Authority blocked the merger of Asda and Sainsburys based on reducing consumer competition. Compare and contrast with the beef processors, I can only ask: Just how much true competition is there for our animals? I could not possibly comment. You can answer that question.

So, how can you make any money out of beef? With a flat deadweight price probably £1/kg below what it should be for European markets, where do you look? Tell processors to pay us £1/kg more, it’s now comedy hour.

Jim said: “If they want more beef, they’ll have to pay for it” – that’s a buyer finisher’s viewpoint. Meaning there aren’t enough stores around and are too dear for the finished returns. We can’t do much about the finished price unless we all don yellow vests, but we can win the battle, start at the beginning.

Suckler herds, or cow calf producers in American speak is where this industry starts. Truthfully, we must look west across the Atlantic what do they do in USA, Canada and Uruguay? They run small and medium sized cows.

Our suckler numbers are on the slide because they don’t make any money. Why because mostly our cows are too big and inefficient. They eat too much – 'a staggering 50% of total energy expended in producing beef is used for maintenance of the cow,' from the US Angus Journal, October, 1995.

Swallow your pride, forget your ego, ignore the barriers, think free range.

It’s all about the cow – smaller cows and more of them.

The Disgruntled Drover