Fans Farm offers a lesson in keeping cattle healthy

Douglas Stewart with aberdeen angus cattle at Fans.
Douglas Stewart with aberdeen angus cattle at Fans.

DISEASE monitoring and vaccination are key to healthy cattle.

And to keep disease to a minimum, commercial beef farmer Douglas Stewart of Fans Farm, Earlston, breeds his own replacements for his herd of 400 mostly Aberdeen Angus cows.

The noted producer is hosting a Scottish Agricultural College (SAC) day on disease control for commercial beef producers on Tuesday.

Douglas explained: “I think with our health monitoring and herd management, SAC thought we would make a good venue for the meeting.

“We have been working closely with our vet and SAC at Greycrook at St Boswells on health issues for years. All we buy in is bulls and we breed our own replacements which means we don’t bring in any diseases. The cows don’t get exposed to any extra diseases, they don’t have that extra disease pressure which means fertility goes up and they take to the bull quicker.”

He monitors and blood-tests for Johnes disease and monitors and vaccinates for bovine viral disease (BVD) and leptospirosis and the herd has been closed since 2001.

The management motto of Douglas, the third generation of his family to farm at Fan, is simplicity and flexibility.

“I try to keep it simple which is important for the business. There’s a lot going on so it has to be simple: each of the three enterprises on the farm have to complement each other and it has to fit in from a labour distribution point of view – everybody has to be flexible.

“We have grown the business a lot in the last 20 years.”

The partnership of Douglas, his wife Kelda and father Graham, farm 2,000 acres. The main base is Fans, rented from Mellerstain Estate, and the family owns the rest at Caldside, Gordon East Mains and East Gordon.

They have 400 breeding cows and all the calves are born in the spring, sired by bulls selected for their ability to pass on good growth rates, temperament, milk yield and mobility.

The partnership winter sheep on a bed-and-breakfast basis to “tidy up the grass” and grow 800 acres of wheat and barley, about a quarter of which they keep for feed. They sell at the local market at St Boswells and to Scotbeef at Stirling. And 270 acres goes to growing about 3,500 tonnes of seed potatoes which are exported worldwide.

An SAC spokesperson said: “Visitors to Fans Farm will learn about how the Stewarts tackle disease control and receive additional guidance from SAC experts.

“As members of the SAC-run premium cattle health scheme, the Stewarts support the new Scottish Government initiative to eradicate BVD.”

He continued: “Details of a scheme to help farmers with the cost of screening their herds for BVD will be given at the open day as well as information on other hidden diseases like Johne’s.”

And SAC speakers will highlight key approaches to the Fan herd management.

The day starts at 11am at Fans and, after lunch in Kelso, SAC specialists will answer farmer’s questions on the eradication of BVD and control strategies for other diseases.

To book a place ring SAC at St Boswells on 01835 823322.