by | May 7, 2020

Snapshot herd feature on the Smith family at Towiemore Farm, Keith, Banffshire who are regularly achieving £2500 averages for 80 plus head consignments of Simmental heifers with calves at foot.

High quality Simmental females are at the very heart of the cattle enterprise of brothers Ryan and Lewis Smith who along with their father Graham, and uncle Colin, run three farms within a five mile radius of the home farm Towiemore, Drummuir, Keith.  The lowland farms total 560 acres in all, whilst the hill farm is rented and has been increased from 10,000 acres to 25,000 acres earlier this year.  The hill farm presently carries 2000 Blackie ewes with a further 300 Scotch Mules lambing down at Towiemore.

Over a number of years, the Smith family have been recognised for taking top end Simmental heifers with calves at foot, featuring a tremendous depth in quality and numbers, to the breeding cattle sales at Aberdeen and Northern Marts, Thainstone Centre in May and October.  At both sales the Towiemore cattle have frequently led the top prices and averages, and have secured a number of championships at the October show and sale.  More impressive is that the herd have consistently averaged £2400 – £2500 for the big number of heifers forward at each of these sales.

Despite the ongoing Covid-19 situation, Aberdeen and Northern Marts have been able to keep their store and prime cattle sales going, albeit under the required restrictions, and the May breeding cattle sale will go ahead as planned on Tuesday, 12th May.  The Towiemore offering will see a mighty 85 heifers forward, with a further 15 entered for a future sale in three weeks time also at Thainstone.

Aimed at this upcoming sale, the Smiths have calved 110 heifers in the Spring.  A further 65 will be calving through mid-July to the end of August for the backend sale.  95% of the heifers would be Simmental crosses with some almost pure.  Towiemore buy their heifers from a number of well-known sources including Delfur Farms; the Campbells at West Watton, Caithness; the Gunns at Carsgoes, Caithness; and Iain Green at Corskie to name a few.  In addition, the Smiths have around 30 cows at home and have established a small eight strong pedigree herd under the Towiemore prefix which includes foundation females from the Islavale and Sterling herds respectively.

Simmental is very much the Smiths breed of choice as a breeding female and is a big part of the farms marketing equation.  Commenting, Ryan Smith who manages the cattle side of the business said: “Simmentals are the most popular suckler cows by far in the North East of Scotland and we’re aiming these heifers at filling that demand.  Whatever the breed of bull put to them the Simmental makes a great job at producing and rearing a quality calf.”

The majority of the heifers aimed at the sales have Limousin calves at foot.  “Again, this is driven by the market place,” says Ryan.  “We’re selling these outfits when the calf is two to three months old and the buyers like that bit of shape and flash in the calves.  As first calvers we find the Simmental heifers are easy calving and easy to work with. They’re tremendous mothers with plenty of milk, a real strength of the breed, and have good, ever improving tight udders which is great for the calves to suck.”

All of the heifers are calved indoors.  This helps with overall management and allows for their diets to be controlled, which is a major part of calving, and also given the quick turnover for sale.  As important has been finding the balance of keeping the heifers at the right condition for calving, and then being able to push them on for selling in optimum condition shortly afterwards.    The Smiths have a diet feeder to which they add pre-calving minerals to the ration. Up to eight weeks before calving in Spring, and one week after calving, the heifers are given ammonia treated straw, silage, and draff.  They then go onto a reduced amount of straw, draff, more silage, and with barley introduced as well. The October selling heifers are also calved indoors but are turned out to grass straight away.

Come sale time Ryan believes that whilst the combined strength of the unit is what sells it on the day, that buyers recognise the benefit they are getting from what is a long-term investment in a Simmental breeding female. “The quality and age of the calf can determine the price and the stronger calves sell the units well.  However, buyers are getting first quality Simmental females that will generally go on breed well for them for ten years or more,” said Ryan. “At the end of a productive working life you’ll get an additional good return for a Simmental cow when selling it through the fat ring or it going for slaughter. That’s very attractive to buyers”

With the recognition the Smiths have for selling top quality Simmental heifers with calves at foot, they have regular and repeat local customers at both the May and October sales.  However Ryan has seen additional buyers from new geographies at recent sales and sees a bright future for Simmental breeding females.

Commenting he said: “It’s great to have these regular customers as it obviously boosts the sale and shows that the buyers are very happy with their previous purchases.  Whilst a lot of buyers have been relatively local we have noticed more and more coming up from the central and southern areas of Scotland.”

“The Simmental makes an ideal suckler female for any herd.  They are extremely popular in the North East of Scotland but with their maternal attributes, and the job they make of their calves, I think they are well suited to any location of farm right around the UK.  As a breed they’re very easy fleshing cattle, they’ve got great versatility and putting any breed of bull to a Simmental female will give you a good calf.  It all adds up to good economics and we’re delighted with the performance of Simmentals at Towiemore Farm.”

You can follow the Towiemore cattle and the breeding female sale at Aberdeen and Northern Mart’s Thainstone Centre on Tuesday 12th May.  For more information, and to watch the sale live then please follow the link: