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Quality finish at Edinvale

It’s the high finishing quality of the Shorthorn that has cemented its status at Edinvale where you will find Jock Gibson. Along with his wife Fiona, Edinvale have over 200 cattle comprising of Beef Shorthorns and Highlanders alongside a small flock of Herdwick sheep. Acquired in 1974 by his father and grandparents, Edinvale Farm is now operated by Jock & Fiona with a goal to bring the Shorthorns to the forefront.

Jock Gibson from Edinvale Farm
Jock Gibson from Edinvale Farm

Originally home to pure Highlanders from the pedigree Cullerne fold, Beef Shorthorns were introduced in the mid-2000s to improve the finishing speed and quality of the cattle. In 1986 the Gibson family at Edinvale purchased Macbeth’s, a butcher in nearby Forres to make better use of the surplus carcases that weren’t making the grade at market. The butcher is now the farm’s main source of income with all the cattle being reared accordingly to benefit the commercial end product.

“Everything we do here has the final consumer in mind, customers want assurance that the animals are local, well reared and of the highest quality.” The Highland cattle were easy to market but despite their high suckling level they were slow at finishing, introducing the Shorthorns into the mix with a faster growth rate and low input helped to keep a consistent supply of product to the butcher shop.

“I am not looking for over-defined hindquarters, I need something more even and with the Shorthorns being a good size and not over pronounced it worked as a happy medium.”

The cattle at Edinvale are fed on grass and forage using a rotational grazing system that was implemented in 2018 and the farm can be split into a maximum of 27 paddocks. All the beef they produce is Pasture for Life certified. Jock also no longer uses fertiliser after taking it out of the system last year.

Quality finish at Edinvale
In 2017 a rotational grazing system was introduced to the farm and a key emphasis has been placed on measuring carbon emissions.

“We’re not producing any less grass than before and now we don’t have to deal with an unnecessary fertiliser bill. It also a big carbon cost that we just don’t need.”

Jock has set himself a target of the farm being as close to carbon neutral as possible by 2030. He does regular carbon audits to understand where processes are impacting emissions and what can be done to improve them. They planted 1,400 trees and now the farm is 10% trees and hedgerows and

they have hopes to fully offset the fuel and electricity used for the business.

“We are a business that’s in front of the consumer and being environmentally responsible helps with the appeal of our product. We want to rectify the image that farming isn’t sustainable and make sure we are trying our best to do our bit.”

Currently the cattle are split with a third being Highlanders and two thirds Shorthorn. Edinvale stopped breeding pedigrees in 2011 and now maintain Highlanders to provide replacement breeding heifers. The Shorthorns were favoured because of their resilience and ability to finish well within 30 months on grass and forage.

The Highland cows go to a bull at three years but the Shorthorns are able to go at two with all the cows being naturally served by the bulls. They have a seven-week mating period to calve mid-February inside. Up until calving the cows spend the winter outside to reduce the chance of large calves causing problems in calving.

“We are not here to produce big calves and we want to focus on the ease of calving. The cows are still able to maintain their weight over winter.”

Edinvale’s scanning percentage this year was 95% with any heifer not in calf going to the butchers or going direct into the cull market. Consequently any cow that has a bad calving will not be kept. Currently the calves are weaned at 170 days but Jock is looking to push it to 200.

“Highlanders sit at 35% of weaned body weight and the Shorthorns at 40%. I think we could delay weaning by another 30 days or so to get more positive results.”

Jock has set up a weigh crate with an attached water trough that allows the calves to be independently weighed whenever they go for a drink. The EID panels collect the daily weight results for each calf and is just another way to record performance.

“I like to see how bulls do in their natural habitat I am looking for animals that thrive on our system and the last three bulls I bought were; 1 highland from Emma Paterson’s Benmore Fold and 2 Shorthorns from John Scott up at Fearn Farm in Tain. Shorthorn wise I have a lot of confidence in the quality of Fearns stock.”

It is also the reason Edinvale no longer show animals.

“The animal you produce for the showring isn’t the animal you produce for the butcher.”

Macbeth’s the butcher being the main driver in the business, Jock is able to slaughter all his animals at John M Munro’s abattoir in Dingwall.

“It’s the only part of the process that isn’t within our control, but I have no desire to place an abattoir on the farm. We are lucky that we have a couple of abattoirs nearby that do private kill.”

All of Edinvale's cattle are grass and forage fed
All our cattle are grass and forage fed

Jock’s system means he can provide Macbeth’s with an animal a week year-round with 70% of products going to the food service industry such as restaurants and hotels and the rest sold online or in the shop in Forres. The quality speaks for itself as Macbeth’s has won several Great Taste awards for their meat produce since 2009.

During the pandemic Fiona set about starting a small honesty shop in a shed on the farm. It was initially just to sell milk, meat and Fiona’s baking but it has developed into a showcase of local produce and gifts such as candles and soap.

“The idea is you should be able to buy everything in there to make an evening meal. We wanted something that would draw people to their local producers and support these independent businesses. Items all have a price but being a small shed no one manages it so it runs on an honesty system which has worked out so far.”

Jock and Fiona would like to branch out into more tourism, they currently run farm tours for educational and marketing purposes.

“Depending on the future legislation we’d quite like to do holiday lets and maybe look at developing a farm shop with vending machines and a full kitchen. We want to create an accessible environment for agritourism with a focus on enhancing an individuals wellbeing.”

For the future of the cattle at Edinvale Jock is looking to increase the herd by 10-20% more suckler cows but still maintain the split of two thirds to one third Beef Shorthorns to Highlander.

“We still have a dozen pure Highlanders which will remain important, but increasingly the focus will steer towards Shorthorn genetics. There will always be cattle here at Edinvale as long as it’s viable and I believe the Shorthorn is really the way forward.

“The livestock are here for an awesome time but not always a long time. It’s about having resilient animals that can thrive in this system with little input and high-quality results and the Beef Shorthorn really does that.”

FACTFILE

  • Farm size: 90 acres at Edinvale with 250 acres in seasonal holdings and a 50 acre tenancy the other side of the village.
  • Number of stock: 200 cows, 3 bulls and a micro flock of 100 sheep.
  • Scanning percentage: 95%
  • Other enterprises: Macbeth’s butcher in Forres, Wee shed honesty shop, Agricultural contractor
  • Who’s all involved: Jock, Fiona and their three children Aila, Tilly and Rory, Full time stockman Johnny and part time general farm worker Malcolm.