Aberdeenshire suckler farmer is bucking trends – while other suckler farmers were dispersing herds he took on a 226-acre tenancy and started a herd of 50 suckler cows.
Over the past eight years, he has more than quadrupled cow numbers to 230 and is now farming 610 acres.
To obtain a loan from the bank, Duncan says it was vital he was focused on KPIs and breeding cows that fitted his low-input system. Using technology to performance record has been a powerful tool in helping him achieve this objective.
Aberdeen-Angus and Stabilisers make up the herd, with a number of these leased under a contract farming agreement.
Cows calve outdoors unassisted following just two cycles with the bull. Data is king, with cows weighed regularly to eliminate those less productive ones.
Last season, cows weighed 656kg on average and weaned 41% of their bodyweight.
Cows and heifers are kept in mobs of 100. In the spring and summer, they rotationally graze herbal leys and are outwintered on deferred grass or kale during the winter. This keeps labour requirements to 160 cows/labour unit and reduces housing costs.
About 10-15 pedigree Aberdeen-Angus heifers and pure Stabilisers and an increasing number of bulls are sold for breeding annually with the remaining youngstock sold as stores or finished off arable silage following a short housing period.
Duncan believes his system is inherently environmentally friendly.
“It is forage-based, we use very little diesel and don’t use fertiliser. Instead, we buy straw – that’s our fertiliser. Our soil structure and organic matter are good, too.”
Duncan will be speaking at the British Cattle Breeders Conference on 23 January where he will discuss how combining simplicity and technology can be powerful in helping to create a system that can take care of itself whilst delivering environmental credentials.