hawick farmers Robert and Lesley Mitchell were runners-up in the Morrisons Beef Shorthorn Suckler Herd of the Year competition this week.
The couple, who farm Whitriggs near Denholm, were presented with their £250 prize at a breed society sale in Stirling on Monday.
Mr Mitchell said: “We were surprised to get to the final. It was great getting an expert opinion on how the farm is going and how you could improve it.”
It is the first time the family has entered a competition.
Mr Mitchell said: “The judges liked the attention to detail, but at the end of the day it was the performance of the business.”
Their 150 suckler cow herd was judged earlier this year by SRUC (formerly Scottish Agricultural College) beef specialist, Ian Pritchard who looked at technical and financial management, genetics, herd health, marketing and the performance and impact of Beef Shorthorn.
Mr Pritchard said: “The Mitchells were recording calf rearing percentages that were well above national figures, they exhibited good fertility with cows being easy fleshed, hardy, kind in nature and they were long lived – the traits needed in a modern suckler cow.”
The Mitchells previously bought in Limousin crosses for their suckler herd until they introduced the Beef Shorthorn to breed replacements in 2002. Now 20 heifers are transferred to the herd annually, with the remaining progeny finished on homegrown cereals to target weight at 20 to 22 months – steers to an average 600kg and heifers 525kg. The herd is achieving a compact calving with 94 per cent calving within six weeks, 93.4 per cent reared. Some of the herd is outwintered on kale and the Mitchells also make silage some of the 1,100 acres of Whitriggs and neighbouring farm, Denholm Hill, which they bought in 1999.
Mr Mitchell explained why the family moved into the native breed: “It was the nature of the cattle and to be a self-contained herd. Shorthorns are quiet natured, their fertility is good and they’re easy fleshing, they put the weight on. We wanted to keep the herd’s health status and not buy in other people’s problems. We’re not going by market forces - trying to buy stock against somebody else – now and it keeps our cashflow better.”
As well as the Shorthorn cross Aberdeen Angus suckler cows, the Mitchells run a herd of 40 pure Shorthorns also on a commercial basis. The only animals they buy in are replacement bulls, but sometimes, if one is good enough and his breeding is not too close to the herd, they will use one of their own.
Mr Mitchell said there was evidence of the increasing popularity of the native breeds at Monday’s Shorthorn sale.
“It’s good that Morrisons are promoting it as well. It’s taking a wee while to get the general public educated to eating traditional meat. Angus is a known brand, but the Shorthorn produces just as good a quality of meat – it’s marbled, which gives it a better taste.”
The family also run a flock of 1,000 Lleyns alongside their suckler business and two years ago held an open day for those interested in the breed.
Beef Shorthorn Society president, Charles Horrell thanked Morrisons for sponsoring the Beef Shorthorn Suckler Herd of the Year Award.
He added: “We received even more entries this year, a trend which reflects the enthusiasm for Beef Shorthorn among commercial beef producers with modern suckler herds.
“We are aware that an increasing number of producers are exploiting the breed’s key traits, including foraging ability, hardiness, fertility, milkiness, longevity and docility, and blending the genetics to produce cattle that complement their environment and make for functional suckler cow replacements the bedrock of a sustainable and profitable enterprise.”