Thursday 8th June 2017
Scotlands Beef Event

Steven Sandison

"What is a realistic number of calves to wean from 100 cows" – Steven Sandison, Nuffield Scholar

Although I was brought up on a farm, myself and Lorraine are first generation farmers. We have three children Carmen, Callie and Glen. The school was not very interesting for me so left at the first opportunity. I was fortunate to be offered a job as a dairyman before my sixteenth birthday.

Three years later the dairy cows were replaced by sucklers and for the next seven years I had the opportunity to work on other farms before leaving full-time employment in 2005. During that time I worked with most of the common beef breeds so when we bought our own stock I wanted Simmental crosses.

We rented land for two years before buying our first unit in 2006. We were very fortunate to get the chance to buy another farm in 2009. Currently, we own 230 acres and rent another 100 on seasonal lets. We have 100 Simmental and Salers cross cows. They are all spring calving with calves sold at weaning. We grow 30 acres of spring barley and in 2012 our farm was selected as Orkney’s first Monitor farm.

Starting a farm from scratch has challenges but many advantages. We had a clean slate with no baggage. My aim was to start as I intended to go on. By that I mean calving in a 10 week period, culling any cows which don't go incalf, calving heifers at two years old while trying to achieve targets for scanning, calving, weaning, replacement rates and growth rates suggested by industry bodies.

I have always found these targets hard to achieve and since our farm was selected as a Monitor farm I have come to realise I am not alone. I have also realised just how few suckled calf producers are benchmarking in Scotland despite consultants suggesting there are farmers achieving these targets on a regular basis.

For my Nuffield Scholarship, I intended to meet as many of these farmers as possible, to find out their management practices and what they have in common, but more importantly, where I am going wrong. As a result, my presentation is entitled "What is a realistic number of calves to wean from 100 cows"; and aims to answer two main questions:

  1. Is weaning 92% in 9 weeks realistic?
  2. What do the best herds have in common?

together with why less than 2% of suckler producers in Scotland are benchmarking. I travelled to countries which use benchmarking and to countries which face similar challenges as we do in the north of Scotland.

Steven Sandison