by | Mar 8, 2024

It’s been a record-breaking year to remember for Overhill House Simmentals and owner Richard McCulloch, Armadale, West Lothian. Here we profile the 130-cow herd, look at it’s history, and some of the breeding philosophies behind its ongoing progress and development.

Factfile: Overhill House Farm, Armadale, West Lothian
1000 owned acres, +200 rented
850 breeding ewes
130 Simmental cows, small Charolais herd
2.5 – 3 years age at first calving
Spring calving March – June
90% + calves reared
9 to 10 calf crops

The team at Overhill House Simmentals had an unforgettable year in 2023 – topping the Stirling multibreed sale in May at 16,000gns and the Carlisle sale the same month at 10,000gns, then achieving a new breed record of 46,000gns at Stirling in October and finishing the year in style, selling a heifer at 18,000gns at the Nxt Generation sale in December! That level of success can never be guaranteed, but despite the unpredictable nature of pedigree breeding, the herd’s owner and founder, Richard McCulloch, says the highs have certainly outweighed the lows, since introducing Simmentals to his farm at Armadale, West Lothian, 20 years ago.

Richard’s passion for farming developed as a child, when he would regularly visit a local farm that was owned by friends of his parents. After building up a successful demolition business, his childhood dream was realised when he and his wife Lisa purchased a smallholding with 40 acres in 1993, marking the beginning of their farming journey.
Richard explains: “From that initial 40 acres, we gradually increased the acreage over the years and we purchased Overhill House in 2004. It had previously been a dairy, complete with old byres, so we started from scratch developing the steading.”

Based at Overhill House with their sons Kier (13) and Cameron (12), while their older sons Johnston and Mac work in the family’s demolition and recycling business, Richard and Lisa are now farming 1000 owned acres, with a further 200 acres rented. There are currently 130 Simmental cows in the herd, which run alongside a small Charolais herd and a flock of 850 breeding ewes. For that enterprise, they have stockman Scott Gilmour, part-time shepherd Thomas Marshall and ‘all-rounder’ Donald Rew. Freelance stockman Brian Wills also helps out and has been a great source of advice for stockman Scott, who began working in the demolition side of the business before showing a keen eye for cattle.

“Our first experience of Simmentals was when I bought a bull from Andy Ryder’s Ryden herd, to go on the Blue Grey cows that we had at the time. I was really impressed by the bull and by the calves that he left, and I got to like the breed in general – it seemed a versatile breed with a docile nature, so I decided to buy some pure females,” explains Richard.

Aiming for easy fleshing animals with good feet and legs, Richard bought from various herds, including Fole and Corskie, and travelled to Ireland to buy some bloodlines from there. He boosted the numbers significantly in 2012 by purchasing 50 females from Hector McCaskill’s Woodhall herd, including several daughters of Raceview All-Star KK.

“We still introduce new bloodlines occasionally, but we try to keep the herd as closed as possible now, other than buying in bulls,” says Richard.

Stock bull purchases have proved key to the development of the herd, and one of the earlier ones, Curaheen Drifter, certainly left his stamp on the daughters that he bred. Richard describes them as ‘excellent females – square cattle, with great ends.’ He did exactly the job that they hoped he would, while other bulls that have clicked particularly well with the Overhill House females have been Aultmore Goliath, bought for 16,000gns in 2017 and the 24,000gns Islavale Heston, bought in 2018. Heston sired Overhill House Neil, the bull, out of a Drifter daughter, that took the champion title at Stirling in May, 2023, and sold for 16,000gns – an all-breeds record price at that sale. Another son of Heston, Overhill House McCoy, was champion at the Carlisle sale in May and sold for 10,000gns.

In February, 2021, Richard paid his highest price to-date for a bull, when he bought Pistyll Kingsman for 26,000gns at Stirling. He was initially drawn to the Woodhall breeding in his pedigree which he thought would do well with his females, and then considered him an ‘outstanding’ bull at the sale. His instincts were right – Kingsman sons, Overhill House Neo and Overhill House Nestor sold at 46,000gns and 13,000gns respectively, at Stirling in October ‘23, while his daughter Overhill House Neva, sold for 18,000gns at Carlisle’s Nxt Gen sale in December. There are four more impressive Kingsman sons heading to Stirling in February 2024.

Neo, which secured the pre-sale championship at Stirling before smashing the breed record, is out of Seepa Daffodil, bought at Roscommon in 2014 for €8000. Richard says: “I was drawn to her at the sale as she was a lovely, feminine heifer, with plenty length and not too extreme – and red coloured, which I like too.” One of only a few select females to have been flushed in the herd, Daffodil had consistently bred sons that sold at 6000-7000gns, prior to 2023.

Due to the unpredictable weather conditions in the winter, the majority of the herd is now set to calve in the spring, between March and June, with a further 25 calving in September. They calve at between 2.5 to 3 years old and are given pre-calving minerals six weeks prior to calving.

“We’ve moved to mainly spring calving this year, so we can get them out to grass as soon as possible. It’s a lot healthier for the calves as we were finding they weren’t getting off to the best possible start being inside in the winter, with the often mild, damp weather conditions,” says Richard.

It makes for a busy spring though, as the lambing of the Blackfaces, Cheviots and Mules, begins inside, around 12th April. Texel cross lambs out of the Mules, plus any surplus others that are not kept as replacements, are finished off home-grown kale, which helps keep ever rising feed costs down. They also grow 150 acres of barley, mostly for their own use, with the rest bruised and sold to a few local farms.

“We select the best of the bull calves for future sales and the rest are kept entire, finished on home-grown barley, with minerals and straw, and sold through ABP at 14/15-months-old, killing out at 400-420kg d/w and achieving U grades. The heifers are mostly kept for replacements, with one or two of the best kept for the Nxt Gen sale, and some sold for breeding or as recipients.
“We keep the herd quite young, generally up to eight or nine years old, really for easier maintenance and also because we can get a good cast trade for the older cows,” adds Richard. In fact, a nine-year-old Overhill House cow won the Christmas show and sale at UA Stirling in December, selling for £2100.

Other than rising costs, the other challenge always at the forefront is herd health, which is why they are very particular when it comes to buying in any animals and also when exhibiting at shows, which the herd has enjoyed a fair amount of success at over the years. Some of the highlights, outwith the pre-sale shows, include Curaheen Drifter winning the inter-breed title at Stirling Show and Overhill House Neil securing the junior championship at Stars of the Future. At the Scottish National show at Dumfries last summer, Overhill House Niko, a son of the home-bred Overhill House Enhance, finished up overall male and junior champion and went onto sell for 12,000gns at Stirling in October.

In addition to being a good shop window for the herd, shows and events also provide the chance to mix with and get to know fellow breeders, which has been part of the appeal of the breed for Richard. He feels the breed has hugely improved over the past 10 years or so.

“The Simmental in this country is now a really modern, versatile animal that has the whole package – milk, docility, and conformation. I’ve no doubt that it’s a breed going from strength to strength and that is clear from the increased demand. We’ve seen a massive boost in demand ourselves at sales, and privately, and have a lot of repeat customers coming back, so they must be doing a good job. The society do a brilliant job of promoting the breed too, which definitely makes a difference.

“Farming’s never going to be easy and we’ve had lots of knocks along the way, but when you have a good day, it makes it all worthwhile!” adds Richard.