Ask Jack Ramsay to sum up Beef Shorthorn and he responds in one sentence. “Quiet, easy calved, plenty of milk to rear a calf every year and great at foraging.” Jack along with Grace speaks from more than 20 years of experience, not only from establishing and developing their Millerston herd of 30 breeding females, but also from running a complementary 40 cow Beef Shorthorn cross suckler herd based at Mauchline, near Ayr.
“We have the best of both worlds; we have tried and tested Beef Shorthorns in both our pedigree and commercial herds and they have proved to be really good functional suckler cows maturing in the 550kg to 650kg range,” says Jack. “They have great motherability, they can certainly last – the majority are living into double figures - and have consistently shown us that they can look after themselves and work off a solely forage based diet. We farm in a heavy clay area with high annual rainfall, so during the six month winter housed period the breeding females thrive on a diet of silage supplemented with minerals.
“In fact Beef Shorthorn is proving to fit the bill for more and more commercial men who are searching for that functional suckler cow and we breeders are able to meet their needs because of improvements made in the last decade. The breed has been
modernised by careful selection of UK bloodlines and with the introduction of Australian and North American genetics, yet at the same time it has retained its native characteristics including hardiness – that thicker skin,” he says.
“Added to that is Morrisons branded Shorthorn Beef scheme which has also upped the ante for the steers, previously a byproduct, and its given them real incentive to try the breed.”
Millerston’s Beef Shorthorn cross sucklers have replaced a Continental cross Friesian herd. “We cross to a Charolais terminal sire, wean at seven to eight months and an average of 300kg and rear on to sell as yearling stores. “We’ve established a commercial herd of docile,milky, clean fleshing cows: they’re structurally correct, easily calved within a eight-week period, and their calves are up on their feet and suckling before they are dry.”
The same values are reflected in the pedigree herd where Jack also prides himself on breeding cattle with that ‘X factor’ - class, character, conformation and style.
Beef Shorthorn arrived to Millerston by accident in the mid 1990s. “At the time I ran the Millerston Highland fold in partnership with the late Tom McLatchie and was heavily involved in exporting cattle. I was asked to help prepare both the Moncreiffe Beef Shorthorn herd and Highlander fold for dispersal; the Beef Shorthorn’s good nature impressed me so much that I bought two in-calf heifers to run on a commercial basis, and the rest is history! The Highlanders were gradually replaced by Beef Shorthorns and they started to fulfil the new challenge I was seeking.
“Great emphasis is placed on cow families at Millerston as this is where we believe the strength of breeding comes from,” he says. The Moncreiffe heifers led to the establishment of Millerston’s two key families – the Grettas and Iranias whilst two years later the Ramsays invested in another two entries from Calrossie to start the Augusta and Madeline lines. Jack took the bull by the horns when in 2002 he made his first on-line purchase, without inspection, of the eight month old Wenmar Topnotch for 1,200gns. “I was aware that he was out of noted bloodlines which we’d already seen, and he was the first of a succession of bulls that have each taken us to that next level of herd progress leaving a lot of good, milky breeding cows.”
These bulls included Glenbrae Yogi – Jack says he was a bargain at 1,600gns since he went on to produce bulls selling to 8,000gns with Millerston Diamond and the reserve Stirling junior champion, Millerston Burns Supper at 6,800gns. Podehole Beefeater was secured in partnership with the Wenmar herd for 14,000gns, the then highest price in the UK since 1946. “Beefeater was bought for his strong, maternal line. He was a big, upstanding bull, full of character and beef with a great disposition and he left a string of outstanding heifers, most of which were retained. Our current herd sire, Meonhill Charlie Chaplin is very modern with great legs, feet and muscle to spare. He’s within Breedplan’s top 1% and is leaving calves with more shape. The first crop of bulls is scheduled for Stirling next February.”
Seeking brand new genetics, the Ramsays have invested in pure Irish blood with Bushypark Tiger.
“His dam is a tremendous breeder and I awarded his full sister breed champion whilst judging at Tullamore Show in 2016. He was only eight months at the time of purchase, however he’s already full of character,” comments Jack.
Grace says the show ring is also important, ‘within reason’. “We use it to showcase our animals – it’s important to get our cattle out and about for farmers to see and we’re able to make a comparison with other breeders’ animals; there’s always something for us to learn. Then there’s the social aspect which we thoroughly enjoy.”
The couple’s showring efforts have paid off. In the last eight years of focused breeding they’ve secured a glittering array of awards including junior title and reserve female at the Royal Highland, reserve junior champion at the Great Yorkshire and twice junior champion at the Stars of the Future calf show as well as numerous local show titles. Jack is particularly proud of winning the progeny pair class at the Royal Highland twice in the last three years. And at Perth and Stirling sales the herd has achieved three female championships and the supreme male title once.
Herd health is also priority. Millerston is a member of a CHeCS approved scheme. “We operate a preventative health plan with our vet, and it really does pay dividends, not only for us but also to enable us to meet commercial producers’ far reaching demands,” says Grace adding: “Millerston is also among the Beef Shorthorn herds waiting to be linear classified, another management tool which together with a new infusion of bloodlines, is scheduled to take the herd forward and continue breeding a functional suckler cow that meets with increasing market demand.”