THE ULTIMATE SUCKLER BREED

Darnford Salers

by kind permission of Katrina Macarthur

Pete Watson, and sons David and Adam, have become noted consignors at Aberdeen and Northern Marts’ (ANM) Thainstone Centre, selling top-end, even batches of Charolais cross stots and heifers which are sold to returned buyers every year.

The well-known family business based near Banchory, includes a large-scale beef enterprise consisting of 420 commercial suckler cows and 30 pedigree Salers, while 550 acres of spring barley is grown for malting and home-use.

“Our business has been trading with ANM for a number of years now and we’ve been selling at Thainstone since it opened 30 years ago,” said David.
“We have a strong belief in the live auction system and believe it’s the best
way to get the true value of stock. You get the audience and buyers forward at Thainstone every week, with 90% of our cattle bought by repeat customers.

“In the north-east, the Charolais is king so we are hitting the target market at Thainstone and usually receive a substantial premium over other breeds of cattle sold there,” he added. Charolais cross calves from Darnford are usually at the top of the tree for averages, with the top draw regularly cashing in at £1200 per head and weighing an average of 450kg.

The herd is made up of Salers cross cows, with heifers and second calvers
bulled to the Salers or Hereford for breeding replacements and the remainder to the Charolais – a terminal sire the family has been using for more than 40 years.

Of the 420 suckler cows, 330 are calved in the spring and are outwintered on stubble neeps, before coming inside a fortnight before calving. The remainder of the herd is calved in the back-end and is housed throughout
the winter on a silage and straw based ration.

All calves are weaned at around eight-months-old when they receive a mixed ration of silage, draff, neeps, barley and dark grains formulated around silage analysis by Harbro beef specialist Peter Oag.

The business is fairly self-sufficient when it comes to feed, with home-grown silage and straw used, and roughly 400 tonnes of barley kept for feeding each year.

Additional draff, tatties and neeps are purchased when market prices are
favourable.

“We like the Salers for ease of management and we don’t have to batch for calving as the Salers can be put to any bull, even easy fleshing, muscular Charolais bulls,” commented David. “The calving ease and great fertility of the Salers breed has allowed us to significantly increase our numbers with the same labour at calving time and we haven’t had to sacrifice our calf quality. Conception rates are consistently around 95% with the aim to wean a calf from over 90% of cows put to the bull.”

Over the years, superior stock bulls have been bought at auction, with two of the most noted sires being Thurso Franco and Bonnykelly Jackpot, which the Watsons purchased at the Royal Northern Spring Show in 2015 for the top price on the day of 6500gns.

“The Charolais breed produces very uniform batches of calves for selling through the store ring at Thainstone and you can’t beat the breed for its impressive weight gain attributes,” he added.

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