The grazing season was mostly dry with the nearby Halkirk weather station recording 295mm of rain from May until September which is 146mm of rain less than last year. Mark’s calves performed well, growing an average of 1.35kg/day which is up from 1.32kg/day last year.

Mark puts the better growth rates down to a good summer and plenty of grass about. Mark has deployed rotational grazing to maximise his grass output which worked well this year.

“It was really dry with us so there was no poaching on the fields,” said Mark. “Grass growth was really good which really pushed the calves on.

“The only thing that checked them slightly was the outbreak of coccidiosis but once we drenched them with vecoxan it cleared up.”

Due to improving grassland management, Mark increased the stocking rate from 1.2 livestock units an acre to 1.5 units an acre. He also managed to cut and wrap an extra 10 acres of silage.

Mark and Shona MacKay run a cattle farm at Greenvale in Caithness.

Mark’s creep-feeding plan

To maximise calf growth rates, Mark creep-feeds his calves with feeders put into fields at the start of August. The calves start on an 18% beef blend for the first week before moving on to a 50/50 mix with urea treated barley. By the end of August the calves are being fed just urea-treated barley. For 128 calves mark fed half a tonne of Grampian blend and 4t of home-grown treated barley.

Spring calving cows recently scanned at 92%

Weaning and housing

This year Mark housed two weeks earlier than usual due to weather conditions. He said: “It started raining and just didn’t stop.” The nearby weather station recorded 180mm of rain in October.

The spring-born calves were all weighed at weaning, with the heifers weighing 285kg and the steers weighing 301kg at the start of October. The average age at housing was 244 days for the heifers and 185 for the steers which gave a growth rate of 1.31kg/day and 1.4kg/day respectively. The best performing calf grew at 1.9kg/day with the poorest around 1kg/day.

The vast majority of calves performed well, growing between 1.3kg/day to 1.6kg/day.

The housed calves were started off on 12kg of silage with 2kg of barley. This will be increased to 15kg of silage with 2.5kg of barley before going to 3kg of barley by mid-November.

The calves were given a pneumonia vaccine, black leg vaccine and wormer at the end of September. The pneumonia vaccine Mark uses is an IBR live marker and Bovalato 3 which is injected. The vaccine is applied just once. They also were wormed and given copper boluses at the start of July.

The plan is to grow the cattle over winter to a weight of 410kg to 450kg, with the first batch earmarked for sales in March. The smaller calves may be put back to grass until July then sold on.

Finally, a number of the Simmental and Shorthorn heifers will be retained for breeding.

92% scanning rate for spring herd

The summer was not only a success for growing grass but also for bulling with very few empty cows coming back. The spring-calving herd saw 128 cows go the bull this year with scanning results showing only 10 were not in-calf. This gives an impressive 92% scanning rate for the spring herd.

Mark is yet to scan his summer calvers, which had 60 going to the bull this year.

Next year will see 41 bulling heifers joining the herd in June. The majority of these are Mark’s own replacements with only 15 being bought in.

Weaned calves on a silage and barley diet with the first lot ready for market in March.

The bought-in heifers were in two lots, the first four were dairy cross Aberdeen Angus for £1,000 head and the other 11 were Aberdeen Angus for £1,280.

So far this year, Mark has culled his 10 empty cows and 15 other cows which were not put back to the bull in the summer.

He also culled one 10-year-old Shorthorn bull who was coming back on his own progeny and a Charolais bull who was bad on his feet and kept going lame.

Finally, Mark’s daughters have convinced him to keep their three ewes with the tups going in last Saturday.

“The tups were in 48 hours and two were served already, so it is going to be a quick lambing at Greenvale,” joked Mark.