Breeding functional suckler replacements is fundamental to Raymond Martyn’s low input 260 cow enterprise and he’s found a ready solution in a blend of Beef Shorthorn and Continental genetics which he says will become increasingly important as CAP Reform begins to bite.

“There’s one real objective for us in future and that’s to survive financially. Post CAP reform we will experience a fall in payments – one that will be higher than average, and we’ve also invested heavily in the unit. Consequently, we’ve adopted a low input strategy which aims to realise what could be termed a reasonably good output for a Perthshire hill and upland farm lying between 800’ and 1,500’,” he explains.

“We’ve also agreed in the last 12 months to simplify the system, by dispersing the 800 ewe sheep enterprise and expand the suckler herd. We’ve already introduced 60 more breeding females and have 70 heifers scheduled to calve in to the herd this coming spring. 

“Working with a functional cow is the bedrock of the enterprise and the opportunity to develop a closed herd has seen us well on the way to eradicating Johne’s and BVD with help of the SAC Premium Cattle Health Scheme. We’re finding the solution in Beef Shorthorn to leave a compact easy fleshing dam along with those vital maternal and native characteristics, whilst Simmental is offering complementary scale and growth. We leave our terminal sires – predominantly Charolais to deliver the muscling. Introducing Beef Shorthorn also has the added bonus of introducing two potential new income streams.”

Raymond and his wife, Olivia farm Wester Bleaton and Soilzarie Farms, Bridge of Cally amounting to 2,100 acres including 300 acres in-bye, 120 acres silage and 60 acres barley. The Beef Shorthorn cross Simmental cows outwinter on the hill at around 1,200’ through to calving from March thereby halving feed costs for four months. Last year just 3% scanned barren and were culled and the majority calved within the first six weeks, he reports. “We had just one vet call out, otherwise 209 cows calved without any issues, they know how to look after a calf and we’re recording an average 94 calves reared from cows put to the bull. They’re weaned at seven months with Charolais cross Beef Shorthorn Simmental steers last year averaging 380kg and heifers 340kgs.” Those performance achievements contributed towards Raymond receiving the annual Beef Shorthorn Society Morrisons Suckler Herd of the Year Award.   

Raymond Martyn’s livestock journey began over 30 years ago at his home in County Laois. After marrying, he managed a dairy enterprise for 10 years on Olivia’s 75 acre family unit in County Fermanagh, however their quest to expand the area farmed attracted the couple over the water, initially to Ayrshire to a 250 acre beef and sheep unit. Instead of restocking in 2001 following the FMD cull, the Martyns decided to take the opportunity to start all over and continue to grow the business. The Perthshire holding eventually came on to the market and the rest is history.

“We arrived here eight years ago with 60 suckler cows – a mix of Continental cross dairy genetics which I had reservations about. We began searching for something more functional that could not only survive but thrive on rough hill grazing come rain, snow and shine. We wanted a hardy cow that could put on flesh in late summer so she could outwinter off her back at least cost.

“We were aware that this unit used to have a pedigree Beef Shorthorn herd, and it was its former manager, Les Sheach who encouraged me to invest in the breed in 2009 to start breeding our own replacements. Fleshing ability and length were among our bull buying criteria along with feet, backed up by Breedplan data for growth and maternal traits.”

The Martyn’s breeding programme has progressed to the stage they have been able to split the herd in two with Beef Shorthorn cross Simmental cows put to the Charolais, whilst the remainder continues to breed replacements – a Beef Shorthorn Simmental blend. “This 50:50 blend is where we want to be. Our Beef Shorthorn Simmental females are sufficiently mature to serve at 14 months and 400kg, and are calving at two years. A small 600kg cow calving a big 50kg plus calf is my ideal, and this blend is proving to have the necessary pelvic width.

“The blend is docile and easy to handle and it’s also demonstrating real maternal qualities. Udders appear to have the potential to wear, teat placements are four square and there’s sufficient milk which when combined with grass and creep ensures we are able to maximise calf growth whilst feed efficiency is at its greatest. We are targeting seven calf crops – we prefer to keep the herd fresh thereby providing the opportunity for more modern higher performing genetics.”

Back in 2012, Raymond left his crop of Beef Shorthorn cross male calves entire for the first time, sold them to a finisher, monitored their progress and witnessed them achieving 300kg target finishing weight within 12 months. The following year he  I trial finished the 2013 born steers to 360kg to 400kg in 17 to 19 months and sold  them to the Morrisons Traditional Breeds Scheme. “These cattle turned in a profit and we are repeating the exercise. Beef Shorthorn is also set to provide us with a second new income stream once we’ve built up sufficient replacements, from our high health heifers that are surplus to requirements.

“In fact we’re looking at every turn to add value, reduce costs and build a sustainable future here for our two sons, Stephen aged 23 and Paul, 15. As responsible custodians of what we believe is the most beautiful farming area with exceptional neighbours, we’ve established a solid commercial template to go forward.”