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Cathryn Williamson: 'My cows go on to make excellent mothers with plenty of milk'

The president of the Beef Shorthorn Cattle Society, Cathryn Williamson, will combine her new official role with the running of her own herd in the Highlands of Scotland.

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'My cows go on to make excellent mothers with plenty of milk'

Having been involved in pedigree Beef Shorthorns for more than 12 years, the breed’s new president Cathryn Williamson established her own 20-cow Balnespick herd, farmed at Kincraig in the Scottish Highlands, two years ago.

 

Mrs Williamson, who has been a breed society director for the past four years, bought her foundation females from three well-known herds.

 

These include: 10 cows and calves from Morrisons Barwood herd, Cumbria; five females from the nearby Alvie herd; and two heifers from Tommy Staunton’s Caramba herd, Republic of Ireland.

 

All breeding cows are outwintered, but are brought inside for a day or two when calving for ease of management and so Mrs Williamson can monitor them on cameras when she is working elsewhere, as she works away from the farm as a bookkeeper for two local enterprises.

 

Cattle are fed home-grown baled silage and minerals through winter, although cows with calves at foot have access in and out of the cattle shed if the weather is inclement.

 

Concentrates are kept to a minimum on-farm, as calves are only fed creep during winter and are out to grass full-time when weaned in April.


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Mrs Williamson says: “Calves have a relatively low birthweight and invariably calve without assistance. My cows go on to make excellent mothers with plenty of milk and calves are up and suckling in no time at all, which allows me to turn cows and calves out to grass within 24 hours of calving.”

 

Calving takes place throughout July and August, however Mrs Williamson plans to put the bull out later this month with the aim of bringing cows forward and introducing them to a spring-calving system. Heifers will be put to the bull at the end of May to calve at two-and-a-half years of age.

 

Bull calves not suitable for breeding are castrated and sold at 10-11 months at Dingwall mart in July.

 

Considering the current decline in the beef trade, Mrs Williamson was particularly pleased with this year’s trade when a pen of four steers weighing 452kg sold for £905/head.

 

On the pedigree front, six pedigree heifers from Balnespick were sold to a new breeder last October and Mrs Williamson hopes to sell a batch of heifers by Alvie Jingle, at Stirling Bull Sales, next February.

 

Five heifers by the same sire will be retained in the herd for breeding. Performance-recording is a technique Mrs Williamson will aim to make great use of in improving the quality of herd, with all breeding cows at Balnespick to be linear classified in October of this year.

 

Classification

 

She says: “Linear classification can be carried out on females in milk from two years of age, allowing breeders to identify females which are structurally sound and functionally fit for purpose.

 

 

“When buying a bull at a sale, you do not get the chance to see its dam, so seeing how she has been classified is a good indication of her qualities and what maternal traits will be passed on to the bull’s progeny.

 

“The breed society pays to carry out classification on first-calved heifers and older females which have not been classified, so there is no cost to members.”

 

Last May, Mrs Williamson privately bought the January 2017-born roan bull Caramba Leprechaun, by Heir Apparent of Longfield, whose first crop of calves is on the ground this summer.

 

She also secured the now 17-month-old bull Farlam Maximus in a private deal from the Elliots at Brampton, Cumbria. It stood male champion at this year’s Black Isle Show and will also be shown at Grantown Show.

 

This year’s show team also includes Alvie Lovely Gael, which stood champion at the Royal Highland Show in 2015 and has a bull calf at foot named Balnespick Noah.

 

Lovely Gael is by Glenisla Zinzan and is bred out of one of Mrs Williamson’s best breeding cows in the herd, Croxtonpark Lovely Origano, whose progeny includes three sets of twins.

 

The 12-year-old cow has been successfully flushed, producing embryos for Mrs Williamson which she hopes to implant next year.

 

Mrs Williamson, who took on the role of Beef Shorthorn Cattle Society president in February this year, says during her two-year post she is hoping to further strengthen the breed’s position as a ‘functional suckler cow’ across herds in the UK.

 

Encouragement

 

She is keen to encourage new members and the younger generation with start-up herds.

 

She says: “The Beef Shorthorn has the ability to flourish on a low input forage diet and, because more farmers are now working on their own, they are moving towards breeds which are less labour-intensive and easier to handle.”

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