Drawn in by their easy calving potential, good temperaments and longevity, father and son team, David and Neil Austin who farm around 2650 acres in Kirkcudbrightshire, are firm converts to Salers cattle, running around 370 Salers and Salers cross Angus cows at Boreland of Girthon and nearby Rusko Farms, Gatehouse of Fleet.
While the home farm at Boreland extends to 950 acres and comprises 240 Salers and Salers cross Angus cows, 180 Black Face ewes and 400 Mules, the addition of the neighbouring 1700-acre hill estate at Rusko Farms, which has been contract farmed since 2010, has enabled the family to expand and make full use of the Salers somewhat ‘easy-care’ attributes and to run their 300 pure Blackies.
“Our main aim is to keep producing heifers and maintaining a high health status,” said Neil whose family bought their first Salers bull in 1990, with the first pure Salers cows originating from late Graham McClymont’s Cuil herd. Now, some 370 cows are run between the two
units of which most are home-bred females from Boreland.
“We need our cows to be easy calvers as the contract farm is six miles from home which allows us to check our calvers twice a day,” said Neil, who completed his agricultural studies at Harper Adams in 2000, just when the family took over the contract farming business.
“Salers are a maternal cattle breed and are easy to work with; we run too many cows to take any risks, problem cows are identified and culled, we are busy enough to keep cattle with poor temperaments”
The Salers breed which is recognised by its mahogany red coat, originate from the central region of France and are known for their good feet and legs and ability to survive in harsh environments making them a perfect breeding female for the hill farming climate.
When Neil and his father took over the contract for Rusko Farms their 60 cattle comprised a mix of Blue Grey cross Simmental females which were proving difficult to work with due to bad temperaments and lack of handling. However, with the introduction of the Salers, supplied initially by the Boreland of Girthon herd and a change in calving policy from all year round to spring, life is now a lot better for the 130 strong Salers mixed herd.
“Since the bad winter of 2012, we have realised life is so much easier calving cows all at the one time, instead of calving cows outside during the winter and often in bad weather, when many of the calves hideaway and are difficult to find,” explained David. “We have found Salers to be easy calvers with excellent longevity on average, our hill heifers calve at three years of age on the hill and produce around 10 calves before coming down to the home farm and having more where they can be more closely monitored,” said Mr Austin.
The breed is proving particularly fertile too, with the Salers calving at Rusko having produced 126 live calves out of 134 cows this year, whilst also delivering tight calving patterns with 105 calves being born within the first three and a half weeks. They calve outside on their own too from the beginning of April, in a three-acre sand pit area which provides a good dry bed for new mothers, for around nine weeks.
“We have found the ease of calving when put to a Salers bull is phenomenal,” added Mr Austin.
At six to eight months of age, calves are brought down from the hills, weaned and brought to Boreland where they are in wintered on silage and straights.
Last year the Austin’s sold 60 bullocks across April and August, averaging at £900 each with the first store sales in the spring at Castle Douglas where they were reaching up to 400kg in target weight with the rest selling in the August sale at around 450kg.
“Typically, we look to sell our yearling bull calves at 400kg target weight in the spring.” said Mr Austin.
The Salers breed minimises costs on the farm not only through stress free calving and longevity but also due to their foraging ability and winter hardiness.
Salers can be kept out at grass year-round and this is a necessity for the hardier cattle grazed on the hill farm at Rusko which survive and develop well out on the hills yearround.
On the home farm at Boreland the cows are kept out at grass in the summer and brought in and fed on silage and straights in the winter to ease management.
“On the hill farm at Rusko the ground quality isn’t good enough to calve at two, at Boreland we have spring and summer calving which gives us flexibility to calve at two and half years.” said Neil.
The Austin’s grow their own silage which has allowed them to roll 1700 bales at Rusko Farms and at the home farm they have had two cuts of silage from 220 acres which will feed the herd over winter. The Austin’s first sold bulling heifers at the society sale in Castle Douglas in 2015, 20 bulling heifers from the Rusko herd at 18-21 months went for £960-£980 each; in 2016 they sold 22 bulling heifers, whilst picking up the prize for reserve champion pen and increasing their prices to £1199 per animal and in 2017 they sold 33 bulling heifers to £1550 per animal along with in calf heifers to £1850 thus showing the improvement in the market of their stock.
Neil Austin reveals plans for the future of their contract and home farm. “We hope to make improvements at Rusko Farms, better fencing would allow us to move more cattle in for grazing and create a more effective rotational grazing system.”
Since taking over the contract farm in 2010 they had to boost their numbers by supplying cattle from their home farm so are now keen to improve their own numbers again and build up the Boreland of Girthon herd further.
“We have moved away from fattening cattle to producing heifers as we want to keep building up and improving the herd.” said Neil Austin.