HI-HEALTH, MATERNAL SIMMENTALS AT
BUNCHREW FARM, INVERNESS
The Review features Karen Young, and her son Calum, Bunchrew Farm, Inverness, Where the Simmental breed is the long-term backbone of a 150-cow suckler herd producing quality bulling heifers and yearling store cattle.
There is a place for all breeds of beef cattle but when it comes to easy calving, hi-health and good maternal characteristics, there is nothing to beat the Simmental according to one farming family from Inverness.
The dual-purpose breed has been the backbone of the Young family’s successful commercial beef enterprise at Bunchrew Farm, where the late Allan Young and his wife Karen, moved north from the Central Belt to take on the tenancy of the unit in 1987.
Having relied upon the Simmental to produce home-bred replacements and easy fleshing progeny for more than 30 years, the family has built up a strong reputation for selling top-quality bulling heifers and yearling store cattle through Dingwall and Highland Marts.
“Simmental cattle have been with us since the beginning and Allan was always extremely passionate about the breed,” began Karen, who now farms in partnership with son Calum, after the passing of Allan in 2017.
“Our first interaction with the breed was in the early 1980s when we AI’d a bought in pure Simmental cow to Solway Adonis and got a bull calf which went on to breed a lot of our foundation stock.
“Since then, the Simmental has continued to suit our system very well and we just can’t see past the breed. The cows are great mothers, have plenty of milk and a good temperament, with the ability to be crossed to any other breed to produce easy fleshing progeny.”
The family farm 400 acres of mainly grassland between Bunchrew and another neighbouring unit, which rises from the southern shoreline of the Beauly Firth, right up to 600ft above sea level.
Spring barley is grown for home use and around 190 Mule ewe lambs are bought in each year for selling the following season as gimmers.
“We just can’t see past the (Simmental) breed. The cows are great mothers, have plenty of milk and a good temperament, with the ability to be crossed to any other breed to produce easy fleshing progeny.”
Although successful sheep producers in years gone by, it’s the 150-strong cow suckler herd which has taken centre stage at Bunchrew, with Calum equally as passionate about the Simmental breed as his late father was.
He said: “Simmentals tick all the boxes for us in terms of health status and fertility, especially when it comes to retaining a closed herd. The cows are easy handled and have few problems at calving time which is a huge benefit when it’s just me working with the cattle or if I’m away and mum is watching over them.”
The hi-health, BVD and Johnes accredited herd is split calving, with 100 cows calving throughout March and April, and the remainder calving from September onwards.
Although having bred pedigrees in years gone by, the family aim to introduce hybrid vigour in the first cross by using the Salers over all heifers.
The majority of second calved cows going back to the Simmental to breed home-bred replacements which calve down at 2.5 years of age.
All autumn calving cows are bulled to the Simmental, with a selection of cows from both herds bulled to the red Aberdeen-Angus, again to introduce a bit more hybrid vigour.
“We started using the Aberdeen-Angus three years ago and went for the red option rather than the black so that we would still have the dark red markings on our cows,” explained Karen.
“Although we still keep the odd pure-bred female and in years gone by, have kept a small pedigree herd, we find we are too high up to be running cows entirely pure and need the all-important hybrid vigour.
“We also have high populations of ticks on our ground and because all the stock is home-bred, they are acclimatised at a young age.”
Other terminal sires have been used successfully at Bunchrew, including the British Blue, which produced some cracking heifers for home use and for selling through the ring or privately.
“Dad built up a good market for the Simmental cross British Blue heifers and often sold the best of them privately to returned buyers who were looking for a bit more shape,” said Calum.
“As the years have gone on, demand has changed, with producers in our area looking for ¾ Simmental herd replacements with plenty milk and big frames.”
In the past, 18-month-old bulling heifers sold at Dingwall Mart in the spring have peaked at £1800 and regularly average above the £1200 mark, with many others sold at £1300 and £1400.
They also sell to repeat buyers each year, some of which have been buying from the family since they started selling hi-health and BVD accredited bulling heifers many years ago.
Yearling steers from Bunchrew also sell well through the store ring at Dingwall, where they often level just shy of £1000 per head at roughly 430kg.
The spring-born calves are introduced to creep feed at five months of age and are introduced to barley bruise, wheat dark grains, Norvite NEO Pro and pit silage when weaned in November.
All bull calves are sold through Dingwall in February and March, with a small selection of the spring-born heifers also sold as yearlings to give buyers the option to have replacements calving at two-years-old.
Autumn-born calves are on creep feed from December onwards, with the best of them sold straight off their mothers the following July at 10-months-old.
In the past, they have averaged £940 per head or 247p per kg to average 385kg.
“We aim to sell 25 calves straight off their mothers at the anniversary sale at Dingwall each year, with the remainder sold at the turn of the year,” said Calum, pointing out that autumn calving cows are dry cow tubed to avoid mastitis problems.
“Of all the autumn-born bullocks born last year, only two were not strong enough to be sold this July so that definitely demonstrates the ability the Simmental has to produce suckled calves with good growth rates.”
Around 25 replacements are kept on each year and are selected on their mother’s performance, temperament, feet and size.
Both Karen and Calum praised the breed’s longevity, with one of the oldest cows on the farm still producing at 15-years-old.
Calum said: “Not only do Simmental cows last long but they still leave you a bit of money at the end of the day as one of the most recent cull cows weighed 915kg and sold for £1260.”
The majority of cows are housed inside throughout the winter, with the autumn herd also brought inside for calving for ease of management at harvest time but turned outside as soon as possible.
Calving cameras have been a huge help to Karen and Calum, as has the regular weighing of all calves on a regular basis as part of the Beef Efficiency Scheme.
Allan always enjoyed a trip to Stirling Bull Sales, where he often came home with stock bulls backed with tremendous bloodlines which went on and worked extremely well in the commercial herd.
Noted stock bulls have been purchased over the years including
Wellhouse Winston (the sire of the majority of cows in the herd today), Cloford Toby, Wellhouse Millenium, Innerwick Troy, Kersknowe Casanova and the 6500gns Kyleston Excalabur.
In more recent years, stock bulls have been purchased privately from the Munro family’s hi-health Wellhouse herd at Beauly, as have two pure bred heifers which were AI’d to Samark Superman to produce one of the stock bulls used on the herd today.
“It’s a huge advantage being able to buy stock bulls off farm, especially when they’re bred from a local herd and you can see the mothers in the flesh,” commented Calum.
“We look to buy big, powerful bulls that are good on their feet and legs, and pay more attention to the breeding, rather than the figures. Health status is equally as important for us, as apart from the two heifers we purchased from Wellhouse, bulls are the only cattle we bring on to the farm.”
At the time of writing, the mother and son duo were eagerly awaiting the completion of a new purpose-built bull shed and pens to house the stock bulls in time for this winter.