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by Eilidh MacPherson
The Beltex breed has become increasingly popular over the years, both as a pedigree and as a Terminal sire. Entries at the Highland Show escalated this year from 187 in 2009 to 245, exceeding those of the Texel (215), which has been the market leader for the past decade.
The team at Heatheryhall, Thankerton, Biggar were relatively early on the band wagon, “Jock Allan used to farm next to us and he got the boys interested in Beltex. In 1998 they bought two gimmers and a ewe from Carlisle,” said Jean, who farms in partnership with her two sons – Tommy (26) and Allan (24).
“The gimmers were from Allan Thom, Frazier, Worcester and the ewe from Gavin Shanks. We also bought South Holm Captain from Jock Allan that year,” informed Allan, who was only 12 at the time.
“The boys were always keen on sheep and had Texels for three or four years before that,” commented Jean.
“It started as a hobby, but now Biggar Show is the highlight of the year,” smiled Allan, who mans the sheep at Heatheryhall, while Tommy heads the cattle finishing unit.
“It was their shape more than anything that initially attracted us and the fact that they produce good prime lambs – Beltex cross lambs top the market most weeks at Lanark,” continued Allan.
Lambing at Heatheryhall starts in the first week in February. “We were lucky as when the weather was bad we had plenty room to house ewes and lambs so didn’t incur the losses that some other farmers did. On a normal year they are only housed for a day or two at lambing.
Last year 20 Lleyn ewes were purchased for the first time and used as recipients for embryos, flushed from four of the Beltex ewes by Innovis. “The Lleyns are milky and lambed well. As soon as you cross a Beltex they become more prolific – 150%.”
All ewes are injected with Heptavac P prior to lambing and then lambs are injected at four weeks and again at eight weeks of age as a precaution against Pulpy Kidney, which otherwise can be a problem on this Lanarkshire property. Injections of Enzovax and Toxovax are administered to all gimmers.
A coarse mix from local merchant Roadhead Farm Feeds, is fed right through lambing and Crystalyx blocks are available in every field.
In the backend 1800 Blackface lambs are bought out of Lanark and Stirling markets. “We buy ‘middle of the road lambs’ and sell through the live ring in Lanark at 39-40kgs. They are bought as long keep lambs and fattened off grass in the spring – March and April, selling to a top of £81 for 41kgs this year,” said Allan.
Bullocks and heifers, numbering 1100 per annum, are procured from Castle Douglas, Lanark and Stirling at ‘handy money,’ mainly between August and November and some in April /May, shared Tommy, who has been Lanarkshire’s Mr Young Farmer.
The boys, who crop 320acres of cereals, carrying out all work apart from spraying and chopping silage themselves, have Feedmix bruise and Prograin treat a large percentage into a silo at harvest time. A Silo King Tarrup TMR is used to mix silage, straw, barley and vegetables from Farm Fuelled Fresh for once a day feeding.
Two days prior to my visit the Taylors hosted a Feedmix Open Day, which attracted 70 farmers from as far as Ayrshire and Dumfriesshire.
“Optimising rumen function is key for improving daily liveweight gains in finishing cattle. To achieve this, particular attention must be paid to formulating a balanced ration. An example of this is a Feedmix high roughage mix; a complete finishing mix incorporating lightly milled barley, straw, protein concentrate, molasses and a unique rumen buffer, Alkacid. Farmers need to be aware of the cost per kilo gain, which they are achieving from their rations if they are looking to improve their financial margins,” said keynote speaker John Smith, Harbro nutritionist.
“Farmers are needing to be more conscious of what the market demands from them and should be looking to produce finished cattle to a specification, which the end consumer wants. Doing so will improve margins and generate a more competitive marketplace,” said Kathy Peebles from QMS.
Heatheryhall bullocks head to McIntosh Donald killing out at 350-370kgs dwt, with any Angus beasts shunted to AK Stoddart at Ayr. The heifers are destined for PR Duff when they reach the desired 320-340kgs dwt.
“We tend to send in batches of 15-20 a week, but are sending 30 each week at the moment,” said Tommy.
When questioned on how the Taylor workforce get on all working together, Allan reported, “top knotch.” Mother Jean and sister Jennifer (29), who works as a Pharmacist at Wishaw General, both help out at lambing and with cattle passports. Jean, who has two and a half days working at the Bank of Scotland in Lanark, is book and record keeper. A full time worker has just been taken on for most of the tractor work. Any plans for the future? “Tommy’s getting married on October 5th,” piped up Jennifer, “You’ve got to add that!”
When the Taylors aren’t busy on farm, they find time to attend the Biggar Young Farmers. “It is a strong club with a good following of about 90 members, probably one of the biggest in Scotland,” commented Tommy, a past chairman – Allan is currently Vice Chair. All three had been to Ann Laird’s Stockman party the night before the interview so were quite happy to drink tea and chat!
With such a busy work schedule, the lads only show at Biggar, Carnwath, Peebles, the Highland and for the first time last year at the Winter Fair. Winning both the YF section and taking Reserve Overall Beltex, this will undoubtedly be added as a regular to the showing calendar!
The Taylors are heading North into new territory this year, with a team of seven to show at The Scottish National Show at the Black Isle on the 4th and 5th of August, where Ian McMillan of Newton Stewart is judge.
Heatheryhall have eight pedigree Beltex for sale at Lanark and three for Carlisle, mainly off stock tup, Kingledores Look At Me. At Kelso they sell 15 composite Beltex/ Texel rams, which met a strong demand, last year, with 10 going to Wales, averaging £580 for 12. They also have 20 Beltex cross Texel gimmers at the Carlisle Eurosale (£260/hd 2009).
Farmers: Allan and Tommy Taylor in partnership with their mother Jean
Location: Thankerton, Biggar, Lanarkshire
Area: 800 acres owned, 150 acres summer grazing 250 acres wintering
Stock: 100 ewes:
30 pure Beltex
20 Lleyn X ewes with Beltex embryos
30 pure Texels put to the Beltex
20 Texels put to Texel
fatten 1800 BF lambs
Finish 1100 cattle
Crops: 250 acres Spring Barley
55 acres Winter Wheat
15 acres Winter Barley
20 acres Forage Maize