Introducing the Beef Shorthorn breed to a suckler herd has added an essential hardiness to cope with the extreme conditions at Scotland’s Rural College Perthshire-based research farm.
A herd of Aberdeen Angus cattle was introduced to SRUC’s Kirkton and Auchtertyre farms, in the West Highlands, seven years ago.
However, farm manager Ewen Campbell felt those with thinner skins were not coping well with the extremely harsh environment out on the hill.
In 2016, he decided to introduce Beef Shorthorn into the herd, leading to a Beef Shorthorn cross Angus crisscross breeding strategy.
This has worked so well, the Beef Shorthorn Cattle Society has named Kirkton as one of its new Focus Farms.
These farms feature a number of producers working with the breed within their respective suckler herds.
The information available for each one highlights how Beef Shorthorn fits commercially in the herd and what the subsequent impact on performance has been.
Professor Davy McCracken, head of SRUC’s hill research centre said: “Our Aberdeen Angus cross cows and Beef Shorthorn cross heifers spend the vast majority of the year out on the hill – which rises to over 1,000m – feeding solely on forage.
“Having the cattle grazing out on the hill is the best place for them on any farm like ours," he said, adding that it also generates income through a grazing plan agreed under the Scottish government’s Agri-Environment Climate Scheme.
He said: “The cows only come down into the shed at Kirkton in December, where they calve over a six-week period starting in early February.
“We then look to get the cows and calves back out onto the hill as soon as the weather and grass growth allows in May.
“Over the last three years the herd has averaged 100 per cent calving, with 100 per cent calves reared."
He explained the calves were weaned at around 200 days with an efficiency target that each calf should weight half of the cow’s body weight.
“Despite the fact that the calves don’t receive any concentrates, the best cows are achieving more than 40 per cent efficiency, while last year some achieved 45 per cent,” he said.
“Calving went very well this year, with all the cows and heifers producing live calves with minimal intervention."
The nine Beef Shorthorn cross heifers did very well, calving in a 26-day period and with the calves averaging 39.6kg at birth.
“We have a second batch of 12 bulling heifers out running with a native bred Aberdeen Angus bull. And a further batch of twelve yearling heifers will be bulled next year,” he said.
Cathryn Williamson, president of the Beef Shorthorn Cattle Society said: “Managing efficient productive suckler cows that thrive within a unit’s unique environment has never been more vital as the sector plans for a new period of change.
“Introducing Beef Shorthorn to a suckler herd breeding strategy will help to make the most of a unit’s available resources, improve cow efficiency and fit new environmental scheme requirements.”