For nearly 60 years the prefix St Fort has been inextricably linked to the Lincoln Red breed of cattle. Ewan Pate reports.
Travellers on the A92 into Fife from the Tay Bridge have long enjoyed seeing these fine, dark red cattle grazing in the parklands next to the road, but behind the visual impact there is an intriguing story.
This well-established 80-strong herd is now run as a partnership by Andrew Mylius, his wife Hilary, and his eldest son Caspar, but back in 1961 Andrew was an agricultural student at Edinburgh University following National Service in the Royal Navy.
The 486-hectare (1,200-acre) St Fort Estate had been in his family’s hands since 1791 and run by a succession of female family members, including his mother, for nearly 70 years.
Mr Mylius says: “At that stage I was a mud student at Picstonhill near Perth and realised I would need help at St Fort. I employed David Evans, a former national service cavalryman with, as it turned out, an interest in Lincoln Red cattle.
“We needed cattle at St Fort to replace the herd of blue-grey commercial cows and David persuaded me that this was a breed worth looking at. I quickly realised Lincoln Reds were one of the biggest framed native breeds with the best liveweight gain of any and a very good food conversion rate.”
In short, he was sold on Lincoln Reds and has stayed as enthusiastic as ever over the intervening decades despite some difficult times for the breed. The arrival of the continental breeds later in the 1960s put pressure on all native breeds.
The wheel may not have turned full circle, but as with many native breeds the Lincoln Red is now back in the mainstream as a naturally polled candidate for beef crossing programmes.
Well-known commercial producer John Hamilton, at Aikengall, near Dunbar, has bought five St Fort bulls over the last eight years to produce home-bred Lincoln Red cross Simmental heifers capable of calving at two years old.
The St Fort herd was founded on females which David Evans bought from Russell Taylor, at Moncur. Early purchases were also made from G.W. Halgirth, Alford, and C.L. Bembridge, Timberland. Other early purchases came from J.F. Smith, Firsby, and Mr Albone, at Spridcliffe, and a little later heifer from Hedley Needler’s Walmer herd.
The St Fort herd soon included some of the best bloodlines in the breed. The Moncur females were mostly by Moncur Edwin with one by Whitehouse Donald.
An influential early sire was Cockerington Jonathan, bred by J.W. and B.S. Needham and bought at Alford in 1961. A later purchase, Cockerington Tyler, was also to prove influential in the 1970s and remarkably again in more recent years.
These early days were something of a purple patch for the Lincoln Red breed. Over a three-year period, several breeders, including St Fort, were sent to Argentina and it is
believed most of the current population of Shorthorns now have some Lincoln Red blood. One of the imports, the Cockerington Tyler son, St Fort Exhibit, was to become a Palermo Show champion in 1978.
In 1990, Mr Mylius decided to start up an Aberdeen-Angus herd to run alongside the Lincoln Reds. This was in the days of suckler cow quotas and with St Fort limited to 84 cows, this meant Lincoln Red numbers, running at about 80 at the time, had to be halved to allow for the introduction of 40 Aberdeen-Angus.
Another development came about thanks to a change in Lincoln Red Cattle Society rules. As with other breeds, competition from the continental breeds was proving hard to live with, so in 1972 the Society decided to sanction a breed development programme which allowed some crossing with other breeds.
Animals were allowed back into the pedigree register once they had reached 82 per cent purity, but were designated BDS in their herd book number to denote they were breed development. Animals with 100 per cent purity are registered as “XP”.
Meanwhile, stock which had not been part of this development programme and remained original population were registered as “P”. The development programme closed 15 years ago.
Mr Mylius says: “Hilary keeps the pedigree records and she commented one day we only had a few P cows left in the herd. I had noticed that these P cows had some really excellent traits, being slightly smaller, milkier and retaining easy calving characteristics, so we decided to build up their numbers.”
A key part of this strategy was the purchase of the bull, Norton Beau in 2009. Bred by Messrs Metcalf and Butcher, it was a son of the old St Fort bull of the 1970s, Cockerington Tyler, and was conceived using the very last straw of its semen.
The result is that the Mylius’s now have enough P and XP stock to maintain the two populations in a Lincoln Red herd, which is now back to 80 breeding females.
“It could be that crossing our pedigree or XP cows with a good P bull or vice versa will produce
exactly the stock we want today,” says Mr Mylius.
The strategy has been worthwhile, with increasing interest being shown in original population “P” stock.
In an interesting twist to the St Fort story the farm hosted a group of Brazilian farmers during the World Shorthorn Conference in 2010. They ordered embryos from three cows which were duly delivered, but it turned out that some of the Lincoln Red herds they were to be used on contained descendants of the 1970s St Fort exports to Argentina.
The Aberdeen-Angus herd now numbers 80 cows. It was founded in 1990 using Netherton, Eastfield, Blelack bloodlines with the first stock bull coming from Carhurlie.
A recent purchase was the 7,000gns Dunlouise Einstein bought at Geordie Soutar’s on-farm sale last spring. Einstein is a traditional native Angus bred from older bloodlines and is currently with Cogent with the intention is that semen will be available for export.
“These native Angus are not too small but they are tremendously deep cattle and I am looking forward to introducing Einstein’s bloodlines here,” says Mr Mylius.
The farming enterprise of arable and beef at St Fort is run by the family team and stockman/ tractorman Billy Walker and, until recently, Tom McDougall, who has been at St Fort since the Lincoln Reds. Tom’s father and grandfather also worked at St Fort.
It is small team to look after a 486ha enterprise including 160 beef cattle and their offspring, but recent investments have been made to ease the pressure.
A new general purpose building has been erected and the sloping site of the main steading has been “cut and shut” extensively to create a much larger flat area on which a cattle handling set-up has been built. Well fenced and gated roads have been created to allow one
person to move cattle around the fields and paddocks nearest to the steading.
The Lincoln Red herd used to consist of two autumn calving herds, but one now calves in the spring along with the smaller group of original population P cows.
Some of the cows are in-wintered and others out-wintered depending on conditions with fodder beet playing an important part in the ration.
The Mylius’s have also developed a woodland grazing block on some outlying land a couple of miles from the main block.
Bull calves from the Aberdeen-Angus and Lincoln Red herds are run together with a view to finishing at between 11 and 13 months and go to Scotbeef. A few bulls of both breeds are selected for breeding at this stage. They will either be sold privately, or by auction at Stirling or Newark.
At the recent February Stirling sale, St Fort Valiant sold for 7,000gns to Lincolnshire farmer, Hedley Needler and two other bulls made 4,500gns and 4,000gns to Scottish homes.
“There is remarkable renewal of interest in using Lincoln Reds in commercial herds as a terminal sire and for pedigree breeders.
“The breed meets all the requirements for producing beef from low inputs and has a tremendous
future,” says Mr Mylius.
The 2015 and 2016 Great Yorkshire Show breed and inter-breed champion St Fort Rolex was sired by an original population P bull.
“His win was a bit of an eye-opener for other breeders I think,” says Mr Mylius.