The Caithness group meets several times per year, each time visiting a different group member’s farm. Alan Mowat farms alongside his sons, Bryan and John. They run a 125-cow, spring-calving herd. The cows are mainly Simmental, however in recent years the family has introduced a Shorthorn bull to breed replacements. The main reason for this was to increase hybrid vigour in the herd, as Alan felt the cows were becoming too pure.
One batch of cows calves slightly earlier – these run with the Shorthorn bull to provide replacement heifers – while the main batch has just started calving.
The Mowats find that this works well, as it allows some of the replacement heifers to be slightly over 24 months when calving for the first time.
It also allows them to get more replacements from just one maternal bull on the farm, as he gets to cover more cows between the early group and the main group.
The remaining sires on-farm are two Charolais bulls, for mature cows, and a Limousin bull for first-calvers.
Last spring a batch of male calves were left as bulls and will be finished in the coming months at under 16
The majority of young stock are sold as stores at one-year-old at ANM’s Caithness Livestock Centre, Quoybrae Mart. The first of these will be sold in the coming weeks. The family also finishes a small proportion of the stock, typically later-born steers and heifers at between 22 and 26 months old.
Last spring a batch of male calves were left as bulls and will be finished in the coming months at under 16. This is the first time the family has tried bulls, and so far they are impressed with the live-weight gain and simplicity of the system.
Alan says the key here is to hit the specifications for weight and fat cover. If you fall outside of these, the financial implications can be huge.
The bulls are housed in a newly constructed shed on the farm, designed with bulls in mind. The current diet is an ad-lib, barley-based ration with a protein balancer until the bulls reach 12 months, which they will remain on through to slaughter.
Having water troughs at the front of the pen means you are more likely to notice any issues with water supply or dirt when compared with systems located at the back of the shed and out of sight
Access to fresh, clean water at all times is very important for all livestock, but is critical in finishing systems, especially when on ad- lib concentrates. The Mowats have incorporated the water bowls just inside the feed face, reinforced with steel frames and concrete to make them bull proof.
Having water troughs at the front of the pen means you are more likely to notice any issues with water supply or dirt when compared with systems located at the back of the shed and out of sight. It also eliminates the need for the farmer to enter the pen to check troughs.
The weather conditions have been favourable so far this winter in Caithness, and farmers hope to get cattle out to grass sooner this spring than in previous years.
Soil temperature measured 8°C on the day, however group members were cautious about spreading any fertiliser just yet, with weather conditions set to change as of this week. Typical turnout date is early to mid-May, depending on weather conditions.