April 2016

April 14, 2016 Charolais is the Number One Choice

John & Ewan Gordon

John & Ewan Gordon

The Charolais is still the number one choice for the Aberdeenshire store ring and for over 20 years, John Gordon, Wellheads has been selling Charolais cross yearling stores at a premium. With a reputation for well framed stores, there is a ready market for his stock.

Wellheads, Huntly is one of the best known upland stock farms in the North-east of Scotland. The farm’s reputation for producing quality sheep and cattle made it a key attraction as host of Scotsheep in 2006 and Wellheads regularly hosts visits from farmers from home and abroad.

Calves born in the spring of 2015 were sold on February 19 at Thainstone Centre, Inverurie where a pen of seven steers secured the top price, realising 284p/kg, with steers averaging 440kg and heifers 420kg.

“Our feedback from buyers is the fact that they have been coming back for a number of years to buy our stores. We did have one buyer who didn’t get this year because they were too expensive, a reflection of the demand for this type of cattle.

My market is the store cattle buyer at Thainstone, who is looking for cattle, well grown for their age and carrying a moderate bit of condition ready to move on to more  concentrated cereal feed for the finisher to put flesh on them, taking them to 700kg liveweight or 400kg deadweight.

The Charolais breed is ideally suited as you can get them to a good weight for age at a year old.” says John who for a number of years now has been achieving his target weights of 440kg for steers and 420kg for heifers.

In comparison to some other breeds, the Charolais will maximise its potential at a younger age and heifers at Wellheads have been fed separately from steers for a number of years. Diets are  home-mixed using pit silage, Prograin-treated bruised barley, draff and a mineralised protein concentrate, Rumitech 35 + Yea-Sacc with a 16% protein ration for growing heifers and 14% protein ration for growing steers.

This flexible system, using home-grown materials and draff from local distilleries allows diets to be adjusted easily to suit the gender, age and weight.

David Mackenzie, Harbro who formulates the diets for Wellheads, advocates the use of a low starch creep feed for calves to avoid early deposition of fat and that yearlings should be fed a reasonably high level of protein, to promote frame development and lean growth.

“This higher protein and lower starch level is particularly important for heifers who are predisposed to laying down fat. This facilitates the development of a good, strong frame, ready for fleshing out. ” says David Mackenzie.

Bearing in mind the recent weight restrictions imposed by beef processors, the combination of the Charolais’ growth potential with the Wellheads’ Limousin cross cows, produces an  animal that can easily be finished to the desired weight, with muscle in all the right places and desired correct fat cover.

“These cows are predominantly ¾ Limousin crosses and with the growth of the Charolais, produces an animal which will mature at 700kg. The first Charolais came to Wellheads in 1971 and we have been using them ever since.” says John.

Not producing an excessively large animal is also dependent on cow size with the average cow at Wellheads weighing in at 680kg. These cows are better suited for the job, are nicely shaped, without being too extreme or muscly, and are ‘more easily kept’, i.e. eating less than a 750kg cow.

John is careful where he buys his replacement heifers, purchasing them locally from BVD accredited herds, to maintain his own herd health which is also accredited for BVD.

“There is the perception that using a Charolais bull can lead to difficulties in calving but I believe that it is down to cow management, having them fit, not fat. It is also down to careful bull selection, matching the bull’s growth potential to the cow size. I’m not buying an extreme bull, but selecting one that is well shaped and fleshy.”

John has a number of Charolais bulls including sires from Elrick, Blelack and Kinclune. When selecting new bloodlines, he pays attention to the calving figures stating that he doesn’t mind calving a few cows but he is looking for sensible mid-range figures.

Along with genetics and nutrition, management is equally important to maximise performance.

John’s starting point for managing the herd is at the point of weaning, taking the opportunity to get cow condition right, either to add a bit of condition or to thin them down a bit.

The autumn calvers (120) are weaned on August 1 and moved onto bare pasture with access to straw and Harbro Super Suckler SEC buckets. As they move closer to calving, cows are moved onto a straw diet and taken inside to ease management.

Bulling starts on November 10 by which time, the cows will have been housed for a few days and are fed on a TMR of silage, draff, straw, Prograin treated barley and minerals. From that point, calves have access to Beefstock from a creep feeder.

At the end of bulling which runs for nine weeks, cows and calves are moved from the straw courts to slats until they are turned out to grass in mid-May.

The spring calving herd comprises 130 cows and heifers with a few more cows being kept since John’s son Ewan came home, following completion of his college studies and a six month work experience trip to New Zealand.

The earliest born calves are weaned in mid to late October whilst later born calves (late March – April) are housed with their mothers on slats and weaned in mid-December.

Earlier calving, fitter cows are turned out until the weather turns poor. The outside cows can afford to lose a bit of condition to get them in a better state for calving. Leaner and older cows are kept inside and looked after a bit better to hold their condition.

Weaned calves are split and are fed on a TMR of straw, silage, draff, Prograin treated barley and Rumitech 35 + Yea-Sacc.

In the period up to the end of December, steers are fed 3kg bruised barley per head per day with heifers receiving 2kg per head per day, with the diet being adjusted as the cattle grow.

“Over the last 20 years, we have made no major changes to what we do, more fine-tuning of nutrition, bull selection and cow management because there is always something you can learn; every day is a school day.

We are acutely aware of ‘Eurocracy’ and farm support and the worry it is to every business but we are constantly looking at ways to improve our system.

The Charolais has done us well over the last 20 to 30 years and I’m sure will continue to do so in the future.”

Farm Facts

Wellheads, Huntly, Aberdeenshire

John, wife Fiona and son Ewan farm in partnership

Fourth generation of Gordon family since 1879

Upland farm, 1250 acres, ranging from 600-1230 feet above sea level

250 suckler cows, split calving

860 Scotch Mule ewes & 200 Scotch Mule hoggs


April 14, 2016 Much Improved Charolais Sale at Holsworthy

Reserve Champion Lovistone Lincoln & Champion Martland Justabout with Judge Alistair Lyle

Reserve Champion Lovistone Lincoln & Champion Martland Justabout with Judge Alistair Lyle

A small but high-quality offering of Charolais bulls saw a high of 4,400gns at the South West Charolais Association’s annual sale at Holsworthy on Wednesday 13th April, where bulls averaged £3,159 with a clearance rate of 75%.

Leading the bids at 4,400gns was the May 2014-born Trenestrall Jack sired by Springfarm Eldon and out of a homebred dam going back to Mowbraypark Topredo. Jack caught the eye of B Clarke, Doddiscombleigh, Exeter and was bred and exhibited by Will Palmer and Son, Truro, Cornwall.

Mr Palmer took two others which also went home with new owners. First going for 3,200gns was Trenestrall Joode, a 22 month old son of Westcarse Beefy who was purchased by Messrs Hembrow, Braddock, Cornwall.

Minutes earlier Messrs Smallwood, Germansweek, Devon snapped up Mr Palmers’ other entry Trenestrall Jivago, another 22 month old this time sired by Mortimers Cosmo at 2,300gns.

Champion Martland Justabout 4,000gns

Champion Martland Justabout 4,000gns

Next at 4,000gns was the Champion, an entry from John Wylde, Woolavington, Somerset. The April 2014-born Martland Justabout, a son of Skysea Fearless and out of Champflower Cilla – who will be sold at the Martland herd dispersal sale next month – went home to Lifton, Devon with Messrs Batten.

Marne Jewel 1,550gns

Marne Jewel 1,550gns

Leading the bids for the females at 1,550gns was the blue ticket winner Marne Jewel, bred and exhibited by Robert Tremayne. Jewel, a 25 month old heifer sired by the Black Isle Show champion Lochend Apache was purchased by DP Daniel, North Pentherwin, Cornwall.

Mr Daniel also took home the class winner Marne Jennica for 1,500gns, an April 2014-born out of the same sire and exhibited by Michelle Hanson, Wendron, Cornwall.

Finally two young heifers sired by Balbithan Eira and shown by David and Bernadette Stacey, St Austell, Cornwall, also found new homes. First at 1,300gns was the 14 month old Polgoda Lily TI +42 SRI +43 stayed local going to Truro with EP Loader and the 13 month old Polgoda Lavendar was snapped up for 1,200gns by EC Haste, Beaworthy, Devon.

Average: 6 bulls £3,159; 5 Females, £1,376
Auctioneers: Kivells

April 6, 2016 National Young Stars Competition 2016

The Charismatic Charolais team – Abbie Anderson, Alan Burleigh and Donald Maclean – arrived on Wednesday 23rd March and wasted no time in getting their stand ready and their cattle (kindly supplied by Mortimers farm) settled. Each team was given a standard area in which to house the cattle and in addition a three by one meter display area to be used to promote themselves, their cattle, breed and sponsors using materials that they had prepared in advance.

Pic 1 - Stand

The Charismatic Charolais Stand

Pic 2 - Cattle

Mortimers Lovely and Ladyluck settled in

After setting up their stalls the competitors were welcomed by the event host Neil Lloyd and announcer Clive Davies. They then began the stockjudging competition which is unique in the fact that there are six cattle in the pen. The three competitors each had to nominate the two that least fit the desired criteria which was potential, then place the remaining four in the traditional way. After the time was up Abbie was called to give reasons on the animals that she had picked, and disregarded and the boys filled out a questionnaire for the Skill-a-thon section. Once the stockjudging task was out of the way the team fed and watered their cattle and had a look round then we headed off to the hotel for the evening.

Pic 3 - Donald Stockjudging

Donald considers the cattle

Pic 4 - Alan and Abbie Stockjudging

Abbie and Alan get in on the stockjudging

We were up bright and early on Thursday morning and arrived at the show ground at half past seven. After checking and feeding the cattle the team fitted in a quick breakfast before getting themselves ready for the main part of the competition – preparing the cattle for the show ring which began at eight thirty and ran until twelve. This is the time that Abbie, Alan and Donald along with all of the other beef teams spent washing and clipping the heifers. At noon there was an hour’s break for lunch and then the teams had one last hour to finish preparing the cattle, they used this for soaping and combing and the finished result was great. During all of this time the judges were moving through the lines and judging the competitors on their clipping and presentation including on how tidy they were, health and safety, their competence in working with the stock and knowledge. The Charolais team excelled in this area being third overall in the section with 268 points from a possible 275.

Pic 5 - Hard at Work

Alan, Donald and Abbie hard at work preparing the cattle

The ringcraft section came next and the team had to keep their cattle ready during the delay in proceedings and also put on their shirts, ties and white coats. I think you’ll agree that they look very smart!


Donald, Abbie and Alan looking smart ready for the ring

Pic 7 - Alan Interview

Alan under heavy questioning from Clive Davies

The two eleven month old heifers – Mortimers Lovely and Ladyluck behaved faultlessly under the teams supervision and their time in the ring was soon over. They took the cattle back to the stall and settled down to watch the other two groups of 6 cattle through the ring.

Pic 8 - In the Ring

The team take the cattle around the ring

Pic 9 - Judge with Cattle

The judge Fraser Cormack considers the cattle

Our team were placed sixth overall with an impressive total score of 832/1000 and topped both the Scrutineer and Skill-a-thon sections, came second in the Ringcraft section, third on Clipping and Presentation and fourth in the Interview.

By the time we left we had a bit of an epic journey back to the airport which left Abbie ten minutes to board by the time we got there! Luckily she and Alan made it home on time.

We are extremely proud of Donald, Alan and Abbie who were a credit to the Society. We had lots of lovely comments at the show on their presentation of the cattle and how well they did in the ring as well as admiration for the Mortimers animals and would like to thank Abbie, Alan and Donald; Karen and Charlie Maclean and Ken and Charlie Piper from Mortimers Farm.

April 4, 2016 Factory demands taking traditional beef breeds off commonages’

Demands for a certain type of product has had a dramatic impact on the herd profiles of suckler operations in hill farming areas, according to Fergal Monaghan.

The specialist commonage advisor says that ever since the BSE crisis the demand has been for younger beef, with animals slaughtered at 30 months or younger.

“Those involved in finishing animals have quite naturally responded to this by demanding calves that can be finished by the age demanded by processors and big retail chains.”

All of this, he said, mitigates against traditional breeds and encourages the increasing dominance of continental beef breeds and demands calves be sold before the first winter.

“In the past many of these farmers would have kept animals for two winters, this pattern is a thing of the past. The demand for younger beef and the price penalties put on older stock means that calves are sold before the first winter.”

A knock on effect of this, he said, is that farmers with commonage may find passing the utilisation test difficult if Purple Moor Grass is not kept under control.

“Passing the utilisation test is a particular problem in situations where past management has led to the dominance of a single plant species. In spite of the focus on it during the debate on the future of commonages heather is not the real problem.

“This deciduous grass grows rapidly in early summer but its palatability for stock is limited. Sheep will only eat it if fenced in and deprived of alternatives, cattle and horses will graze on it in early summer but by August it has gone over and is largely avoided by stock if alternatives are present.”

If large bovines are absent in early summer, he said, their introduction to the commonage is too late in the season for Molinia to be utilised.

“When this occurs cattle may concentrate on other parts of the site and largely avoid the wet heaths where Moloinia dominates. This creates a very real risk that such areas could be deemed to ineligible for payments due to the absence of agricultural activity.

“In short they fail the utilisation test. In many cases a finding of ineligibility like this and the ensuing penalties could destabilise the finances of the entire farm.”