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Galloways and Garden Centres at Shancastle
by Eilidh MacPherson
Shancastle purchased the 30 head pedigree herd of Galloway cattle from Marbrack a decade ago this week. Ten years on they have almost trebled numbers of pure breds and are successfully crossing commercially.
The vision of Klondyke Garden Centre guru, Bob Gault, when he initially bought Shancastle, was to have a herd of native cattle. His plan was to be able to sell beef from Shancastle in his chain of 25 Garden Centre ‘farm shops’ across the country.
Farm manager – Scott McKinnon has seen and implemented many changes at Shancastle over his twenty years on the property. “When I first came here there were 270 sucklers with their off-spring sold store at Stirling. Blackface ewes tallying 700 were crossed for Mule ewe lamb production and 700 Mule ewes roamed the then 1800 acres of Galloway hills.”
Bob Gault purchased the estate in 1999 and has since upped the holding acreage to 2800 acres in hand and a further 700 acres that are rented.
With the introduction of three large finishing sheds cattle numbers were raised dramatically to 600 head, “but we down sized before the Single Farm Payment came into play,” explained Scott, who in hindsight reckoned it was the wrong thing to do.
This move is being reversed as next year the cattle numbers will revert to 600 head, including pushing the pure Galloways up to 100 cows. Presently all the 100% Galloway beef is sold through the Klondyke Garden Centre farm shop at Carlisle and this increase should meet demand with a steer hung up each week of the year, giving customers the choice of pure or cross Galloway beef.
A local bull – Blackcraig Gusto – The Galloways from Marbrack were joined the Galloways when they arrived at their new residence. And true to his title Gusto is still performing ten years on, maybe not with quite so much enthusiasm, he serviced the crossbred cows last summer!
Diamond B Knockout, a Canadian import, shared with Jock Finlay of Blackcraig was the only other stock bull used until Scott injected some new European bloodlines with a couple of imported bulls from Germany a few years back. He is currently awaiting a new German consignment of two or three bulls from North of Hamburg. Diamond B Knockout is also still in action, serving cross cows, proving the longevity of native breeds.
Of the last German importation, Holstein Barron is still working. His cohort Holstein Ed was injured. Trade with Germany has been a two-way street, with Shancastle exporting some bulls and heifers. “We swap bulls, with no money changing hands,” said Scott.
“We’re crossing Limousin cross Holstein/Friesian cows with a Galloway bull and keeping the females, which are then covered by Charolais bulls. Our idea was to breed medium sized cows, producing more calves that are easier fed and fleshed but not losing too much on carcass weight, explained Scott.”
It was evident in one shed, where on one side fifty cross Galloways still had feed in front of them and the feed pass in front of the opposite barrier, holding fifty cross Continental, cattle was bare. “The Galloway crosses in this shed eat 300kgs less a day than the Limousin crosses and they will produce more calves in their lifetime.”
“We are quite a commercial farm and at the end of the day my boss is a businessman and things have to pay their way.”
The resultant Galloway cross bullocks head to Highland Meats at 350-380kgs, grading out at mostly R4L’s and head to the American Chain, Wholefoods Supermarket based in Kensington, London. The commercial cattle are hung up at Scotbeef between 360-390kgs; aiming for R4L grades, with 30% hit U grades.
When sourcing a bull Scott says, “First and foremost I look for the same the same as here – size and length and different bloodlines as that is where the breed is falling down as the good ones are being used over and over again.”
In the past he has bought from Blelack, Allanfauld and Corrie. “I had a bad experience with a bull from Ireland and the TB in the South worries me so I buy mainly Scottish bulls and tend to buy on figures.
“When we were breeding suckled calves I looked at shape and size and we were all chasing bulls with big backsides. But now I’m aiming for low birth weights and high growth weights and a long back, but these bulls tend to be expensive.”
Scott tends to go to one Bull sale a year, be it October or February as he prefers to only have to buy one new bull annually as “if you have to buy two it can leave quite a hole.”
This year Shancastle has three Galloway bulls and five heifers on offer at the annual Castle Douglas show and sale. Klondyke Powerplay, a Gusto grandson out of the same cow, who produced last years show stopper – Overdrive – who sold to 4000gns is on offer. The other two are Klondyke Rascal and Radar, sons of Holstein Ed, the first bulls of German linage to be sold at Castle Douglas, so Scott is looking forward to a reaction. They are both out of Diamond B Knockout daughters.
With all crossbred cattle housed for the winter it is a busy time of year for the staff. Two thirds of the cows calve in the spring and the rest in the autumn.
“The spring calvers are receiving 30kgs of grass silage and 3kgs of straw at the moment. At 5-7 months of their pregnancy they get 2kg of concentrate to avoid dwarfism. They calve mid March and are kicked outside in a couple of days to fields with wooded shelter. They are fed a 2kg magnesium based ration till early June to keep them milking till there is enough grass.”
By the beginning of August creep feed is put out for the calves and they are eating 2kgs of homemade blend by the time they are weaned.
Scott works closely with John Naylor, nutritionist with Carrs Billington. “He keeps me right as to when it is cheapest to buy my straights as forward stores,” informed Scott, who buys forward 100t of rape meal at a time.
Barley is purchased locally, while the other ingredients come direct from the docks at Liverpool. Rapemeal, beet pulp or citrus pulp make up the ration. “We sometimes substitute citrus pulp for beet pulp as it is about £18/t cheaper. The analysis is the same but sheep won’t eat it. We are on citrus pulp this winter and rape meal is the cheapest form of protein we can buy at £138/t.
“From the start of autumn I have a meeting every six weeks with my vet and nutritionist and walk round the farm. I find it fairly beneficial.”
Other cost trimming exercises at Shancastle including doing all their own haulage. A JCB Fast track was purchased solely for roadwork, with the cattle hauled to Scotbeef at Bridge of Allan and Saltcoats and the locally sourced barley and sawdust also moved in house.
At calving time, Scott uses a dairy practice and has the vet pre-booked every Monday at 2pm. “If we spy a lame cow on a Thursday or a cow that has not cleaned properly, he’ll deal with it on the Monday. It is peace of mind and the vet bills have gone down.”
Scott has started a trend in the area as seven of the larger local beef farms have followed suit.
At silage time they ‘neighbour’ silage trailers with Neil Gourlay. The contractor sends in a chopper for the two cuts but staff fill the six silage pits. The 160 acres of whole crop is also chopped and ensiled.
Sheep enterprises at Shancastle have been simplified, by buying in 500 Mule ewes and gimmering them. Half are bought privately from John Park, Dalpeddar, Sanquhar and the rest from the market. They are sold through the rings at Castle Douglas and Dumfries. Wintering 1000 hoggs from Kirkconnel and Ben Lomond is another source of income, while the 35 pedigree Texels are unsure of their fate. “We bred our own tups when we ran a commercial flock but as we didn’t show or sell many tups I don’t want to sell them on an over populated Texel market. I’ll maybe find someone who wants to start a pedigree flock,” pondered Scott.
The autumn calvers start calving down at the beginning of August until the end of October and are then housed mid to late November. Two kilos of concentrates are fed out. The calves are speyed in early May and the cows are shunted off to the 550 acres of hill at the rented Dalwhat. They are brought home two weeks before calving.
The crossbred cattle are hard fed inside in the summer, with the heifers finishing at 15-20 months and the bullocks from 18-20 months. Spring born heifer calves are destined to a life indoors. “I stumbled upon the fact when we down sized when the SFP came in. We sold 120 stores and put the rest inside. I found when we put the Galloway crosses outside to grass they lost 20-30kgs before they moved again and keeping them indoors they were finished three months earlier.
Shancastle has proved without a shadow of a doubt that the hardy Galloway cow can compete with other bigger breeds in a commercial market and Scott just hopes more commercial farmers will consider the Galloway for their enterprise.
Owner: Bob Gault
Manager: Scott McKinnon
Farming: Shancastle, operating as Klondyke Farms
2800 acres, owned
700 acres rented
Location: Moniaivie, Dumfriesshire
Cattle: 560 suckler cows:
including 80 Galloways
Sheep: 500 Mules gimmered
35 pure Texels
winter 1000 hoggs
Labour: Scott, a stockman,
a tractorman and two general farm workers &
two self employed guys when required