SALERS cattle are famed for being a hardy, easily managed and fertile breed, and its these attributes which have allowed one Aberdeenshire farming family to not only run a profitable suckler herd which produces quality store and finished progeny each year, but run an additional business away from the farm.
Father and son team, Ian and Jamie McIntyre, who farm at Milton of Cullerlie near Echt, with their respective wives, Audrey and Kirsty, and Jamie and Kirsty’s two sons Hamish (4) and Lachlan (1), are strong converts of the Salers since introducing the breed to their enterprise 10 years ago and believe the milky, low maintenance female is the ultimate suckler cow.
“We first went into the Salers as we needed a breed that was self-replenishing yet could still be crossed with the likes of a Charolais to produce progeny which could be finished,” said Ian, who came to the 170-acre unit in 1989 and first took to the breed when attending a show in the Republic of Ireland.
“Before introducing the Salers to our herd, we were buying Limousin, Simmental and Aberdeen-Angus cross cows with calves at foot as replacements from Thainstone but we felt it wouldn’t be a sustainable system in the long run. We didn’t get the consistency either, so we were looking for a maternal breed that could produce an even batch of calves each year for finishing and selling through the store ring.”
Jamie, who also works fulltime between the farm and the family’s McIntyre Ground Management business which was established in 1996, added: “The Salers has it all – it’s fertile, easy calving with good feet and udders, and has a great temperament.
“When we were buying the replacements, we had the odd Salers cross and they were always the cows that we didn’t have any hassle with. We could never run the number of cows that we are if we hadn’t gone down the Salers route. They allow us to run the farm on a parttime basis although the farm always comes first.”
Having built up cow numbers to an 80-strong herd, as well as 10 in-calf heifers, the family first brought the breed home when they bought Salers cross heifers at Castle Douglas from 2009 to 2013, with the majority bought from the Penninghame and Cuil herds.
Pedigree wise, the McIntyres run a small herd of eight females under the Corrichie prefix. The first two pedigrees came from the Callander herd in 2009 and, since then, they’ve bought females from the Cuil, Cleughhead, Cumbrian, Lisnamaul and Darnford herds, while the latter female from PJ Maggin and Sons, Northern Ireland, was gifted to Jamie and Kirsty as a wedding present from Jamie’s papa, John Black, who used to farm near Drumoak.
Two-thirds of the herd calves in the spring from March 10 onwards and the remainder calve from midSeptember. Heifers and second calvers are bulled to the Salers to produce hardy, milky replacements, while third calvers and so on go to the Charolais bull which gives the boys the real icing on the cake, attracting topend prices in the store ring at Thainstone, and good weights and grades if sold fat.
“Most of the cows calve outside but if we have space in a shed, some will come in for easy looking,” explained Jamie.
“We keep the bulls in with the cows for 12 weeks and heifers seven to eight weeks”.
“Heifers are also calved a fortnight earlier than the rest, so we can give them a bit more time before they go back to the bull. The herd has been clear of BVD since 2012 and is in SRUC’s Premium Cattle Health Scheme.
All breeding females are vaccinated for BVD and dosed for fluke”.
“This year, all cows in our spring calving herd calved within 12 weeks and 80% of them calved in the first six weeks. That’s another advantage of the Salers breed – they’re very fertile,” added Jamie, who also pointed out that they only had to attend to one of the Salers cows from the spring herd at calving time this year and that was due to a ring womb.
Cows from the spring calving herd are kept outside all year round and are rotationally grazed on good grass leys through the summer and then grazed on rough ground in the winter. Low maintenance in terms of feed too, they survive on mature grass silage and minerals, while their calves are offered creep from August onwards until weaning in late November.
They then come onto slats inside and thrive on good quality, first cut pit silage, home-grown barley from the 25 acres grown on the unit and a protein supplement. The strongest heifer calves from the spring herd are outwintered.
Autumn calving cows are brought inside with their calves in December when the weather gets too wet for ground conditions.
Back-end cows also receive first cut pit silage to ensure milk quality is of a high standard throughout the winter and Autumnborn calves follow the same diet as the spring calves.
“Cows from the autumn calving herd aren’t usually turned out until mid-May and calves are left to suckle their mothers all summer and are weaned about five weeks before calving is meant to start,” explained Ian. “This helps keep the summer mastitis at bay but since moving to the Salers we’ve had next to no mastitis, even in a summer as dry as the one we’ve just had.”
A top draw of Charolais and Salers stots weighing between the 480kg and 500kg mark are sold through the store ring at Thainstone in February or March and regularly hit the £1250 bracket. In contrast, the rest, including all heifers, are kept on and summered at grass to be finished before Christmas.
The McIntyres aim to finish stots before 20 months of age at 380kg on the hook, while heifers go a bit lighter and both stots, and heifers produce U and R grades.
“When we weigh all the calves in the summer time, there is no difference between the ones that have been inside and the ones that have been outwintered,” said Jamie.
“The Salers is predominantly a maternal breed so the fact that we can finish stots at 380kg under 20-months-old is good. They weigh the exact same as the Charolais stots when sold as stores and only make around £100 less.”
Backing this up, Ian added: “We have no problem finishing Salers stots. We still get them up to the weight with the same grades, albeit one month or six weeks older than their Charolais mates.”
The Corrichie team are quite picky in what they select for keeping on as replacements, with heifers bulled at 18 to 19 months of age. They select on feminine looking heifers, with a good body, correct legs and tight udders.
“Although we’re relative newcomers to the Salers, we’ve been ruthless from the start in what we have kept for breeding, but you do benefit from that down the line,” said Jamie. “We run a fairly tight culling policy as anything that gives us a problem be it not holding to the bull or not weaning a calf heavy enough, it’s down the road. If they’re still producing a good calf every year, they can stay in the herd.”
But, there’s seldom any problems like that and one characteristic that’s certainly evident at Milton of Cullerlie is the longevity of the breed. “The first original batch of five from Castle Douglas are still here and they were bought 10 years ago,” said Ian.
Jamie added: “A Salers just does what a cow should do. It has a calf ever year which is quick to its feet and suckle, and she looks after her calf well and then gets back in calf the following year.”
Admittedly, the McIntyres don’t fork out a huge amount on stock bulls, but they were able to rely on AI for the first few years. The first stock bull bought was Ashbury Jackal, a bull bought privately from a herd in NI. He made a real stamp on the herd and produced growthy daughters and easily fleshed stots.
Last November, the boys splashed out 7800gns on Cuil King, at Castle Douglas, and with his first crop of calves arriving on the ground now, the first few are looking promising.
In the past, AI home-bred sons have been used on the herd, while the current Charolais stock sire is a home-bred son of the family’s only pure Charolais.
“We look for growthy, fleshy bulls which are good on their legs and feet,” commented Ian. “The Salers will calve to anything and we aren’t feart of bulling them to a big, muscly Charolais.”
On the other side of the coin, the Corrichie herd has enjoyed their own success at Stirling Bull Sales with sales at 4000gns and 3800gns for sons of the AI French bull, Druide. They’ve also sold bulls privately, but both Ian and Jamie commented that they never imagined to be selling pedigree bulls as early on as now, so it really is a bonus to the business.
“Moving forward, we want to keep on improving our own stock and sell a surplus of breeding heifers and a few bulls,” said Jamie, who has enjoyed wins with Salers at both Banchory and Echt shows.
“By breeding our own replacements, we can select for the traits that we want so that we can continually improve. Calf registrations of Salers-sired calves are steadily increasing each year and the Salers is a breed that suits part-time farmers like ourselves but works just as effectively at the other end of the spectrum on large-scale suckler herds,” he concluded.