Well-known within the Scottish beef and sheep industry, Jim Kennedy is a successful livestock procurer and primestock producer.
In the run up to one of winter’s biggest beef and sheep events, Louise Hartley visits his farm in Ayrshire to find out more about his business and his plans for Agri-Expo 2014.
Farming in South West Scotland, Jim Kennedy and his wife Sally own and manage a livestock procurement business. Working with their son Wallace, they specialise in selling cross-bred rams and pedigree black Limousin bulls.
With success at summer and winter shows across the country and growing demand for their rams, the Kennedys have built a successful business and have been pioneering cross-bred breeding for the last seven years.
Lyonston Farm, Maybole, is home to the Lyonpark pedigree flocks of Beltex, Charollais and Suffolk ewes, all of which are used to provide top quality breeding for the cross-bred rams sold at Kelso in September. Jim and Wallace also manage a flock of pedigree Texels, whose shearlings are sold at Kelso.
Jim, who started experimenting with cross-bred Beltex ewes in 2007, says: “Cross-bred rams are becoming more desirable for the size, stretch and shape they can put into lambs.
“The market has grown dramatically over the last five years and good quality cross-bred tups are commanding good money.
“It should not matter what colour the head is - in the commercial market a ram must produce lambs with length, big well-fleshed gigots and a tight skin and a cross-bred ram has the potential to do so.”
As the cross-bred females are too valuable to kill, ewes are crossed a third time with the Charollais or Suffolk and then crossed back to the Beltex.
The best Beltex ewes are flushed and the pure ram lambs and shearlings are sold at Carlisle and Lanark’s main sales.
Flushing starts in August and is done to provide the Kennedys with younger, sweeter lambs for the primestock shows.
Jim and Wallace have recently scanned two flushes of embryos, the results of which make impressive reading.
Five pedigree Charollais were flushed, with 65 eggs harvested in total. Half of the eggs were implanted fresh into recipients and the other half frozen to be used the following year.
Of the 32 eggs implanted as pairs, the recent scan has shown 28 positive pregnancies, giving an 88 per cent hold rate - an impressive figure for the breed.
Another flush, this time of the Beltex, Beachy Razorlight, bought from John Barclay, Stirling, produced 48 eggs over two flushes last year and 26 grade one and four grade two eggs this year.
With all of this year’s eggs implanted fresh, as well as eight frozen eggs from the previous flush, the recent scan results show 30 positive pregnancies - a hold rate of 77 per cent.
The ewe has also bred the Kennedys’ dearest ram to date, at 3,000gns, sold at Carlisle last year. Jim believes his success with flushing is partly down to using teaser rams.
Current Beltex stock rams include the first prize shearling at the Scottish National Beltex show, Whitehill Too Hot To Handle, which is jointly owned with Andrew Morton, Stirling; and Morton Wifi, which was purchased this year for £2,800, also from Mr Morton, again with a half-share retained.
So far this year, Jim and Wallace have remained unbeaten in the summer primestock shows, including taking first and second prize at Biggar, where the Scottish National Beltex Show took place. They also had first prize at Ayr and in 2011 showed the champion prime lamb and exhibitor champion in the commercial section at the Royal Highland.
The family’s two main shows during winter are Agri-Expo at Carlisle, and the Scottish Winter Fair, now known as LiveScot, at Lanark.
Jim and Wallace are keen exhibitors at Agri-Expo and in 2007 stole the show and made history by becoming only the second exhibitor to take the live and dead cattle championship with the same animal, and securing the overall lamb carcase championship.
This year they are taking a big team to compete at the show on October 31.
The main cattle enterprise involves the breeding and private selling of pedigree black Limousin bulls.
The Kennedys believe they are the only purely black pedigree Limousin breeders in the country and are working towards having an entirely black homozygous polled herd.
Jim, who was the inaugural chairman of the Scottish Beef Cattle Association, says: “We decided to commit ourselves to breeding purely black Limousins to differentiate ourselves from other breeders.
“The Holstein influence in the suckler herds has also meant more suckler breeders are wanting to use a black Limousin bull to breed replacements.”
Jim runs his stock bulls for three years, the most recent of which is the homozygous black and homozygous polled bull, Edwards Black Galahad.
It was bought last year through a private sale for £16,000 from Edward Penty, importer of the American Squeeze Crush, who has a half share in the semen rights. The lower end of the Limousin herd is crossed with the British Blue.
With the herd now up to 30 pure-bred black females, Jim and Wallace are in a position to sell a couple of select females, and may also be taking two bulls to Carlisle to sell at the breed sale in February.
As well as a successful cattle and sheep breeding business, Jim spends a lot of his time sourcing stock for his own procurement business.
After completing a five-year apprenticeship with the procurers, Fatstock Marketing Commission, Jim went back to the family farm in Kirkconnel and farmed the tenancy until 1990.
He then started as a fieldsman for Lawrie and Symington livestock auctioneers, covering south west Scotland, where he headed up the online sales side of the business.
Jim says: “The company was almost ahead of its time by branching out in to online sales - computers were not used as much then and buying stock over the internet was very futuristic.”
After being headhunted by County Auctions, Wooler, Jim continued to work in the south west Scotland and sourced 1,500 sheep and 200-head of cattle per week for the company.
In 2002, Jim and his wife Sally, who now works full-time at Ayr College, decided to start their own procurement business, Carrick Primestock.
Jim says the business grew well from buying ‘white form’ cattle (cattle which had not had subsidy claimed against them).
He says: “We specialised in buying the older white form cattle, claiming back-to-back subsidy payments and selling them for slaughter.”
Carrick Primestock is now responsible for the procurement of 1,000-1,500 lambs per week, all of which are sold through Farm Stock, and about 100-head of cattle, marketed through the business itself.
All stock is sourced on-farm and goes direct to slaughter.
Although it is important to have well-bred animals with lots of growth potential from the outset, Jim also swears by using vitamin E supplements to boost the muscle development of his show stock.
He says: “Both sheep and cattle need a good source of vitamin E, a lack of which can cause white muscle disease.”
A powdered source of the mineral is sprinkled on to feed and any show potential animals are injected with the vitamin booster to aid muscle development.
“All pure and three-quarter bred ewes are injected with a vitamin E supplement when they are vaccinated against pneumonia and it is regularly given to the fatstock show team.”
Jim also admits he is obsessive about preventing any selenium or cobalt deficiency in his cattle.
He says: “The whole of south west Scotland is deficient in cobalt and selenium and whenever the sheep are handled they also received a drench containing the two mineral supplements.
“The drenches are not expensive and are easy to get hold of.
“As far as I am aware you cannot really overdose stock with the minerals, as they will secrete what they do not need, so there is little chance of toxicity.”