Farm efficiency key to success for Scotch Beef Farm of the Year

Being as efficient as possible, and controlling the things which can be controlled are the keys for Aberdeenshire farmer Harry Brown, who, along with his wife Helen and children Abbie and Murray, run this year’s AgriScot Scotch Beef Farm of the Year.

Industry news Regional Food News
Published: 01/02/2023

Being as efficient as possible, and controlling the things which can be controlled are the keys for Aberdeenshire farmer Harry Brown, who, along with his wife Helen and children Abbie and Murray, run this year’s AgriScot Scotch Beef Farm of the Year.

The family farms 750 acres at Auchmaliddie Mains, near Maud in Aberdeenshire, with additional seasonal lets. They run about 200 predominantly Limousin-cross sucklers put to one of four Limousin bulls or an Aberdeen Angus, and buy a further 200 store cattle each year to finish. Heifers from the best performing cow lines are kept as replacements, with some also sold with calves at foot at Thainstone, while all other cattle are finished on-farm.

While the business sells finished cattle deadweight, and is also well known for its success in the commercial showring, a new venture during Covid-19 has given the family a different insight into its cattle enterprise. Now, about 30 of the farm’s homebred heifers are finished and sold as direct meat sales, either through farmer’s markets or doorstep deliveries to local customers. It is sold alongside Texel cross lamb and eggs from the sheep and hens owned by Abbie and Murray.

“It’s a lot of work, but it has been really rewarding,” says Harry. Speaking to the end customer has been a source of great feedback on meat quality and consistency, he says. “It's good to speak to consumers to dispell any myths about how beef and lamb is produced on our farm and Scotland in general. The farmer's markets are a great way to engage with the general public and tell them our story. It’s really rewarding to have a customer buy our beef and lamb who has been put off red meat or perhaps not eaten red meat for a while.”

Customers value the consistent quality of Auchmaliddie Mains beef, he says. When home-bred cattle come back from the butcher, he also receives feedback on its quality and how the carcass performed. Traceability means he can go back to the cow and bull, and uses that information to identify the best-performing animals and to ensure the family is consistently focusing on producing high quality, efficient cattle.

Their attention to detail starts with cattle health, with yearly Johne’s monitoring, calves being ear notched for BVD at birth, regular foot trimming and routine nutritionist meetings. A health plan is in place which is routinely discussed and updated with the vet, while any bought-in breeding stock is isolated, health checked and tested before entering the breeding herd. All heifers destined for breeding are pelvic measured before bulling to ensure they are suitable for breeding with minimal assistance.

Use of technology has also helped farm efficiency, with CCTV in the calving shed meaning cows can calve in peace but be safely observed. A cattle database has also been introduced to help cut down on manual farm paperwork, which Harry says has helped speed up data entry and analysis. “It has also allowed us to speed up the registration process, and helps planning bulling and calving periods and patterns.”

But perhaps the biggest gain of all has come from investing in a Ritchie Beef Monitor, purchased through one of the capital grant schemes, used in conjunction with compatible eartags to give EID tag reading, weighing and recording. It is in the shed which houses about 50 finishing steers, and as cattle need to cross it in order to access the water trough, the business now has daily weights for these steers.

This allows the Browns to identify when cattle are at their optimum weight without the stress and potential set-back of putting them through a crush, and also reduces the labour requirement. Importantly, it also highlights when cattle are not performing, says Harry. Before the monitor was installed, he says some poorer performing cattle were being fed for a longer time, eating more silage and barley and not gaining much weight. “Now when we monitor the weights we can check when an animal has plateaued, identify them at an early stage and do something about it.”

Heifers are weighed once a month through the cattle handling system, but Harry would like to buy another weigh monitor for them. “We are always trying to improve our efficiency, so we look at weaning weights too, and identify our better performing cow lines by looking back through our records. Identifying the best cows and the non-performers really helps with breeding selection.”

The business has also recently built a new outdoor silage pit, which has cut down on the need to wrap silage, as well as increasing the farm’s storage capacity and efficiency. It has also allowed the old indoor silage pit to be repurposed as bedded pens.

Other areas of the farm receive just as much attention. Soils are regularly analysed and mapped for pH and trace elements, and GPS used for sowing and fertilizer spreading. The family has also undertaken several carbon audits, which has increased their awareness of the issue, and prompted their focus on increasing efficiency.

“We are always trying to innovate and change and to improve our efficiency. There is only so far you can go with costs – and a lot is out with our control, so we are concentrating on the things we can influence, such as health and herd performance.

“I think there is a lot we can still do, and when I go to events such as AgriScot, there is lots of technology and knowledge from other industries which beef farmers can use to help their business. It’s important to keep up to date with developments as there is always room for improvement.”

A Judge’s View – Bruce McConachie, QMS Head of Industry Development

“What impressed us was how much of a family enterprise the farm business was. They knew what they were aiming to produce and knew the market they were producing for. Ultimately, they have decided to take control of their own supply chain, which is fantastic. They’re also looking to improve the performance of the livestock business while capitalising on direct marketing their produce.
“From a QMS point of view, the family are such fantastic ambassadors for the Scotch Brand, and for Scottish farming as a whole. They’re passionate, proud, and very good food producers.”

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