Increasing productivity and optimising sales has meant adapting breeding and feeding regimes to suit the marketplace at John and Andrew Paterson’s Woodend Farm at Balfron, near Stirling.
Traditionally a dairy farm run in conjunction with a pig unit at Uncle Andrew’s nearby Kilfasset farm, enterprises still include 200 milking cows and followers, but the pigs have gone and in their place a bull beef enterprise while flocks of Mule and Blackface sheep make the best use of grass.
Woodend extends to about 950 acres, 600 of which is LFA and 200 hill ground used for the Blackface ewes and also for grazing heifers.
There is also around 200 acres of barley with both grain and straw retained for home use.
Milk is sold through Muller Wiseman on a Cooperative contract and in recent years some Montbeliarde blood has been introduced to the predominantly Holstein herd.
Andrew said this dual-purpose breed has many advantages, such as a better carcase, hardiness and longevity without compromising yield from the herd which averages 8,800 litres at 3.3% protein and 4% butterfat.
The “Montes” as Andrew calls them are also easy to get in calve and have no problems calving.
Andrew said: “The calving period for the herd is 398 days, which we achieve by using three bulls for natural service.”
He has returned to using bulls after a period of AI which was not particularly successful, although some British Blue semen is still used.
Two Holstein bulls and one Angus one are on the farm with the recently purchased Angus predominantly used on heifers, although Andrew is also on the lookout for a Monte bull.
He has been impressed with the performance of the Montbeliardes, especially the bull calves which go through the bull beef unit and produce a better carcase than the straight Holstein.
He said: “Another plus is the cast cow price.
“Recently I put some cows away and received over £800 for a Monte compared to just over £500 for Holsteins of the same size and weight.”
The cows are fed a tailor-made diet depending on the silage analysis.
A crucial component of their diet according to Andrew is Agri-sorb, a naturally produced and very effective rumen buffer supplied by ECV Animal Nutrition.
Douglas Dawson, senior nutritionist with ECV, said: “Agri-sorb is an excellent aflotoxin binder and rumen buffer.
“When it is included in the diet I am seeing benefits in virtually all cattle from young calves to dairy cows, stores and intensive beef.”
Andrew backed this up and described a time recently when he ran out of Agri-sorb for two days and immediately noticed a drop in the cows’ performance along with very loose dung.
Agri-sorb is also incorporated into the ECV Barley Beef diet Andrew uses for finishing the bulls and Andrew believes it has completely cut out the incidence of bloat.
Mr Dawson said: “It is an ideal product for cattle as it is kind to their rumens and encourages consistent growth rates.”
Bulls are sold at 12 months old to Scotbeef where the black and whites average 280 to 300kg deadweight, with Montbeliardes slightly heavier, and any Belgian Blue crosses up to 340kg deadweight.
Grades are mostly O for the Holsteins and R for the Montes and British Blues.
All the dairy heifers are retained at the moment as John and Andrew are considering expanding the herd but the beef cross heifers are turned out to grass and sold store through UA and Caledonian Marts at about two years old.
The third enterprise on the farm is sheep.
The 180 Blackface run on the hill are bought in as hoggs from Drumardoch and as soon as they hit some good dairy grass they really grow on.
They are crossed with Bluefaced Leicester tups to produce replacement Scotch Mules.
This year they scanned at 165% and lamb outdoors from the second week in April.
The 230 Mule ewes are extremely prolific, usually scanning at least 200%.
In fact Andrew said: “We do not tend to flush the ewes at all, otherwise we end up with far too many lambs.”
They are out-wintered and come in anything from six to two weeks before lambing depending on weather conditions.
This is also dependent on when the first cut of silage is finished and the silage shed empty.
They are never fed outside but get ad-lib silage and ECV 18% ewe rolls once they come in and for a few weeks after they lamb, again dependent on the weather.
Having tried Suffolks, Beltex and Charollais rams, Andrew reckons he has come across the perfect solution in Beltex cross Charollais rams which produce lively, viable lambs which get up and suck quickly, have fast growth rates and good conformation.
The first lambs are sold off their mothers at the end of June.
He sells some through UA and Caledonian Marts but the majority go to Scotbeef when they reach 40kg and they kill out at 21kg grading mostly U3L.
Any lambs not sold by the time the market takes its seasonal dip in late September are put on hold until the new year.
Andrew said: “The beauty of these crosses is that they just maintain their condition at grass and then when we bring them in mid-January and feed them ad-lib ECV lamb finisher, they can be finished in a couple of weeks.”
The last of the Mule wether lambs are away by the beginning of March and usually grade R with a few U’s.
The sheep enterprise dovetails nicely with the cattle and utilises the grass well but with a strong demand for milk and beef, the Patersons are seriously considering expanding their dairy enterprise to 300 milking cows with the spin-off of a bigger bull beef unit.