British Blues – The No 1 Choice For 800 Suckler Cow Unit At Dunscroft

The Innes family have farmed at Dunscroft, Huntly, in Aberdeenshire, for three generations and now James Innes is carrying on the family business together with his father, also James and his brother George, who is currently on a busman’s holiday in North America, working with cattle there.

The farm lies in a fairly flat and arable area near Huntly and runs to 3,500 acres as a self contained suckler unit. All of the progeny from the 800 head suckler cow herd are either kept as replacements or finished on the barley that the farm itself produces. There is 1500 acres of arable at Dunscroft split between 100 acres of oilseed rape 100 acres of wheat, 300 acres of winter barley with the rest down to spring barley. “Producing our own feed has obvious advantages but also hopefully gives us enough straw for the winter as everything is housed.” says James.

The suckler herd has been developed over the years, in pursuit of an easy calving strategy and has changed from the traditional Simmental cross cows with Charolais cross calves at foot, to a two way cross between the Limousin and the British Blue. “While we still have some Simmental cross cows, we had moved away from Charolais towards British Blues to improve our calving issues and the Limousin X replacement cows suit the Blue well.” says James. “The Blue X Limousin cow also gives us a good return at slaughter with better grades on our finished cattle at mostly U’s and some E’s and while the improved conformation class of the finished cattle is the biggest improvement we see, the British Blue has allowed us to improve the management at calving as well by being a bit easier to calve.”

All of the heifers in the herd are put to the Limousin, with the British Blue being used in alternate years for replacements. The herd is split 50/50 into spring and autumn calving to give a regular supply of finished cattle, all of which go direct to Woodhead Brothers to supply Morrison’s stores throughout the UK.

The calves are creep fed from an early age and when weaned at 6-7 months, they are introduced to silage with a little barley mixed in, only moving onto ad lib barley hoppers and silage in the last six to eight weeks to finish. Both steers and heifers are finished at between 20-24 months on ad lib barley and silage feed system with the addition of some Norvite Amino Beef Mixed Minerals. The cows receive an Easy Calving mineral 8 weeks before calving and powder minerals in buckets are available in the fields to supplement their diet. All of the 800 cows and followers are wintered inside and while the family hope to move to an increase in herd size in the future to around 1000 head, James admits that this will have to wait for more shed space as they are currently at capacity.

“We’ve been so impressed with the British Blue”, says James, “that we’ve now invested in 7 pedigree cows to join the herd and we hope to develop the pure herd through a flushing programme, until we are producing bulls for ourselves and hopefully aim to sell a bull or two at Carlisle in the future. Our cattleman Grant Ireland is also keen to show commercial cattle and the current system of Blues out of Limy X Blue cows lends itself well to producing the type of cattle, which could hopefully do well in the commercial show circuit for ourselves and other exhibitors.”

Netherhall Buster

Netherhall Buster

Netherhall Buster

Sire: Bringlee Volkawagon

Sire: Baron du Bois Bauloye

Dam: Bringlee Sandy

Dam: Kilboy Victoria

Sire: Galopeur des Hayons

Dam: Damelia V D Wolvendreef

When choosing stock bulls, James is clear that he still chooses bulls by eye and pedigree before referring to their EBV’s. “That’s how we chose Netherhall Buster which we bought for 17,000gns at the Blue Sale in Carlisle in 2009. His first lot of commercial calves are looking promising and we are looking forward to seeing his pure progeny in the spring calving.”

While the main enterprise at Dunscroft is cattle, the Strathbogie Texel Flock have been grabbing the headlines recently when they took the second top average at Carlisle just behind Robbie Wilson, with whom the family share rams and both Milnbank and Strathbogie had gimmers from the successful Millers Outstanding which was purchased in Lanark in 2008 for 28,000gns.

The 40 strong Pedigree flock was founded in 2000 with the purchase of two gimmers from John Forsyth’s Glenside Flock and one from Robert Forsyth’s Flock at Baltier. The current flock is bolstered by 60 embryos due to lamb down this spring to increase the flock numbers. “Probably one of the biggest influences on the flock so far was Mossknowe Pudsy, bought in conjunction with Robbie Wilson and Gordon Taylor, with lambs having been already sold off him to a top of 6,000gns. He has now been followed by Glenside Razzle Dazzle, which James bought from John Forsyth for 40,000gns at Lanark in the autumn and is by his home bred Strathbogie Python sold to Glenside the previous year.

As well as being successful in the sale ring, Strathbogie have taken the top price in the ewe lamb class, the last two years at the Highland Show and together with Stocksman Michael Leggat and James’s 10 year old son Gregor, who is also getting keen on the sheep, the family are set to continue to make their mark in the show and sale ring for many years to come with both sheep and cattle.