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Beef Expo 2019 preview: Decisiveness key to Scottish producer's judging challenge

Cattle producer Gavin Scott will be in charge of judging the commercial classes and championships at Beef Expo. Erika Hay went to meet him.  

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L to R: Gillian, Lynsey, Gavin and Janet Scott.
L to R: Gillian, Lynsey, Gavin and Janet Scott.

A keen commercial cattle exhibitor himself, Gavin also produces cattle on a weekly basis for two local butchers and knows exactly what makes a good butcher’s animal. He farms the 168-hectare (415-acre) Gateside Farm near Linlithgow in Central Scotland, with wife, Janet, and help from his two daughters, Gillian and Lynsey.

 

About four years ago, Gavin decided to move the 113 ha (280 acres) of arable land into a contract farming agreement with near neighbours, Walter Dandie and Sons, and concentrate on the cattle.

 

He says, “We are bucking the trend by increasing cow numbers while everyone else seems to be reducing.”

 

Spurred on by Gillian, who works on the farm part-time but had little interest in the arable side, they have doubled their cow numbers to 90 head in the last four years.

 

Gavin says: “Our focus used to be on fattening cattle. We bought about 400 head of store cattle a year and finished them and we always had one or two which we enjoyed showing.

 

"That is really how we started the cows; by keeping a few of the show heifers. The intention was only to have half a dozen cows, but somehow the herd has expanded.”

 

Giving up work on arable side has freed up more time for Gavin to work with the cattle and also created shed space, which was used for machinery.

 

The herd has been increased slowly by keeping heifer replacements, but also through buying a few bulling heifers of the right type at the market.

 

This, according to Gavin, is a Limousin cross British Blue which when put back to a Limousin bull produces the ideal calf for the butcher’s market.


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Some of the family's heifers.
Some of the family's heifers.

Cattle from Gateside have been sold through David Stein Butchers shop in Bathgate for 35 years and, between him and Willie Howatson’s shop at Newmains, they take three beasts every week.

 

Gavin says one of the reasons the butchers like his cattle is they kill out so well. From a 650kg liveweight he gets a carcase ranging from 380kg to 420kg. He also buys in 100 to 120 forward stores each year to keep continuity of supply.

 

The herd is split into spring and autumn calving, partly for supply reasons, but also to give replacement heifers the opportunity to join either herd. The cows are all in-wintered and everything is calved indoors.

 

Calves, whether spring or autumn born, only spend one summer at grass before being finished on an ad-lib ration of silage, home-grown barley and beef blend.

 

They are finished at 13 to 18 months. Replacement heifers are separated out and bulled at around 20 months old.

 

Replacements

 

At the moment, only Limousin bulls are being used but the plan is to introduce a British Blue bull to breed replacements.

 

Many of the calves on the ground now are by a Ballinloan bull or a Haltcliffe sire.

 

However, two new bulls are being put to work just now; Mystyle Nocommotion bought privately and Barrons Ninja bought at Carlisle for 4,700gns. Bulls are shared with John Bannatyne at Lanark.

 

 

Two years ago, Gavin went to Carlisle with the intention of buying a British Blue bull but nothing took his fancy and he ended up coming home with the champion heifer instead.

 

Gillian was thrilled when Drumloan Lindsey arrived at Gateside and promptly added it to the show team, winning champion of champions at West Fife show two years ago and last year, when it was also first at the Royal Highland.

 

A successful flush last year resulted in four calves born in March and the Scotts are delighted with them.

 

Gavin says: “We never intended breeding pedigree and have never flushed anything before but now we have two bull and two heifer calves to add to our fledgling Thistle herd.”

The cow, which is in-calf now, will not be shown this year but there are two commercials all set for the summer show season, which usually starts with West Fife and finishes with Peebles.

 

Last year they had five in the show team and won championships at West Fife and Peebles with a black heifer called Doo-Da and at Stirling with a red heifer called Tickle Me Fancy.

 

Gavin has also been successful at the winter fatstock shows, winning the Scottish Winter Fair in 1988 and 1990 and reserve supreme at Smithfield three times.

 

More recently they have taken home-bred calves to the Winter Fair at Lanark and were champion calf in 2015 and 2017. Gavin is also a past president of the Scottish National Fatstock Club.

 

Judging is something Gavin really enjoys. He says: “I do get nervous, but once I am in the ring I just get into the zone and concentrate on the job in hand.

 

It is usually easy to pick out your top animals as something will catch your eye as soon as it comes into the ring. The skill is in placing the rest of the class. I try always to be decisive and, once the cattle are lined up, I seldom change my mind.”

 

In the past, he has judged at the Scottish and Welsh Winter Fairs and Smithfield, also at the

 

Royal Welsh and Great Yorkshire shows. Back at home, while not a closed herd, the cattle are in a health scheme and are vaccinated for BVD and tested for Johne’s. Anything with a positive test is culled and its female progeny also slaughtered.

pic 1

Home-bred heifers at Gateside Farm, Linlithgow.

Farm facts

  • 113ha (280 acres) cereals and oilseed rape
  • 55ha (135 acres) grass, 28ha (70 acres) of which cut twice for silage
  • 90 suckler cows
  • 100 – 120 store cattle
  • 12 Texel Blue ewes

While Gavin does not use electronic identification, he likes his cows to have plenty of milk and produce calves with good shape about them.

 

He knows what families are doing a good job and carefully selects heifers from the best bloodlines.

 

Despite having cows with such a good shape, there are relatively few caesarean sections, only four over the last two calvings.

 

Janet says: “We have a rota for checking on them through the night between me, Gillian and Gavin and, if there are any problems, we can all be out there in an instant.”

 

The Scotts certainly have a passion for their cattle and are enjoying the time to work with them without the pressure of running the cropping side. Gillian, who gets married next year, has also expanded into sheep and has her own pedigree flock of 12 Blue Texels.

 

She says; “The sheep are just a hobby for me. Dad was not too keen on them but they are growing on him. I hope to get them out to some shows this year and build on the third place I got with my tup at the Highland in 2018.”

pic 2

Gillian Scott with one of her potential show entries for the coming season.

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