With extensive hill grazing, Peter Kennedy needs livestock that will primarily look after themselves with minimal input. His suckler herd of around 80 Shorthorn cross Highland cows fits the bill, he says.
He started the herd with six cows in 1996 when he and wife Rebecca bought Dunans Farm in Glendaruel in the Cowal peninsular in Argyll and Bute. They have since added three more holdings totalling around 4,000 acres, some of which is owned and the rest tenanted.
“We’ve always worked with those breeds – they work well for our system,” says Peter. Over the years they have used Simmental and Charolais bulls before settling on the latter. It adds size to calves and they grow well, he explains.
The majority of cows calve at the end of March and into April, and a small number in the Autumn months. They calve out on the hills and Peter’s aim is to keep everything as fuss-free as possible. “We will only get involved with calving if there is a problem and generally speaking there aren’t many issues,” he says.
The calves all leave the farm at six months old to be sold via United Autions’ sales at Dalmally. Prior to that he introduces creep feed – ForFarmers Prime Rearer 16 + Levucell, as advised by his account manager of many years Yvonne Shaw.
The benefits of introducing the creep feed are two-fold he explains. “We find the quality and quantity of grass is starting to disappear by late summer and the calves can draw the cows down. It helps the cows keep some condition as the calves are not relying solely on milk. We need to go into the winter with the cows in decent condition and this really helps.
“There is also a massive difference in the calves – they grow really well on Prime Rearer and I think the addition of Levucell really helps.”
The creep is introduced in August. “We try to have them eating it for six weeks before they are sold to get the full benefit. We have found that the calves go onto it a lot easier than other creeps we have fed over the years."
“It seems to be very palatable so they take to it straight away. There is nothing more frustrating than filling the calf creeps to find they don’t take to it, but they start eating quite quickly with this."
“We only have a short window to get them eating so it really works well for us.” He feeds the Prime Rearer on an ad-lib basis with no extra feed or forage. This helps them reach average weights of 260-270kg when sold at six months. Last year Peter achieved average prices of £3.20/kg for bullocks and £2.86/kg for heifers.
Meanwhile their mothers are just on grass through the summer and autumn, although he does introduce silage later in the year, but not usually until after Christmas. “It’s down to the type of grass and the type of cows we have,” says Peter. “They have a good amount of hair on them, so they don’t feel the winter at all. That’s the system we are on and I believe it’s the best way."
"There is a lot of talk about sustainability and the environment recently, but this is the way we have been doing it for generations. I believe that hill cows are the most environmentally friendly way of producing beef.”
In late spring, cows are given a small amount of feed ahead of bulling in June. “It helps keep condition on them after they calve,” says Peter. By this time a small number of his 1,000 Scottish Blackface and Cheviot ewes are also being fed, so he uses a ForFarmers Ewbol 19 sheep nut for the cows too.
“It’s a good all-round feed for the cows as well. It does the job and saves us from keeping separate feed bins. We don’t use enough feed to justify separate storage. Plus it means that we can feed everything on one round with the quad bike.”
The farm is also home to a 130kW hydroscheme which generates electricity on one of the farm’s ‘burns’ (large stream). “We own a share in it and act as caretakers now it’s up and running,” explains Peter. “It’s works 24/7 and it’s great to be involved in renewable energy.”
A specialist diet for growing and creep feeding systems Prime Rearer is designed to:
The 6mm nut provides high energy and 16% protein plus vitamins, minerals and key trace elements including zinc, iodine, cobalt and selenium. Levucell SC is a rumen specific live yeast which improves rumen development, increases forage digestibility and increases daily liveweight gain.
Ad-lib feeding in calf creep feeding system is recommended, alternatively allow up to 4kg/head/day (1kg/100kg liveweight) for growing cattle. Introduce gradually over seven days alongside a source of fibre and access to water.