Jennifer MacKenzie is an agricultural photo journalist with almost 30 year's experience. Operating from her base in Cumbria, Jennifer undertakes mainly industry-related freelance writing and photography.

Farming without Roots

Beef farmer Kenny MacGregor runs a successful enterprise on the Scottish Border – and he doesn’t own or rent a farm!

Kenny’s career in farming goes back to 1975 when he first started work, however when redundancy followed 10 years later he decided to become self employed and bought six Limousin cross heifers at Bellingham mart and it all started from there.

He kept the heifers in buildings at East Loan End farm just west of Berwick and one of his neighbours was the Limousin enthusiast Robert Crichton who bred the famous bull Broadmeadows Cannon.

Kenny MacGregor with stock bull Overthwaite Chartered.
Kenny MacGregor with stock bull Overthwaite Chartered

By that time Kenny had bought another five heifers and he bought a bull from Robert Crichton to run with his newly established herd.

“Robert was a great influence on me and the bull I bought from him, Tweed Fellow by Virginia Action, bred a lot of quality calves for me that went on to be shown – one of them took a third prize ticket at Smithfield,” said Kenny. “The bull lasted for 11 years.”

More than two decades on, Kenny now runs 65 suckler cows, housing them during the winter from mid October to mid April in buildings rented from long time family friend Mrs Margery Taylor at East Loan End who helps with the cattle in the mornings.

For summer grazing he rents 70 acres of grass parks eight miles away over the Scottish Border and he makes 700 bales of silage off 35 acres in a one year ley in the arable rotation at East Loan End.

Most of the herd replacements are bought as bulling heifers from Hexham and Carlisle markets and calves are easily sold privately at 10 months old with bullocks averaging £670 and heifers £620.

While he doesn’t find much time for showing cattle these days, in the past he has won the suckled calf championships at Wooler and the former Rothbury market on a regular basis and one Limousin bullock went on to be shown at the Birmingham Winter Primestock Show.

New stock bull Overthwaite Chartered bought for 12,000gns at the February 2009 sale in Carlisle.
New stock bull Overthwaite Chartered bought for 12,000gns at the February 2009 sale in Carlisle

Heifer replacements are Limousin sired out of British Blue crosses with the aim of producing a top quality calf when put back to the Limousin bull.

At last year’s Carlisle March two day sale of suckled calves he paid £1,200 for a stylish in calf heifer from Len Skelton, of Low House, Maryport.

Kenny is also prepared to invest in his stock bulls and in 2007 he paid 6,500gns for Wilodge Adjudicator, bred by Christine Williams, of Shifnal, Shropshire, the full brother to the 30,000gns Wilodge Tonka sold at Carlisle in October 2003. Both are by the French bred bull, Oxygene.

He has had a high level of fertility and only one of the 65 females he ran with proved not to be in calf.

At the February 2009 Carlisle sale he paid 12,000gns for the June 2007 born Overthwaite Chartered, one of three bulls in the sale to make five figures for Lancashire-based breeders RS Harker, Overthwaite, Holme, Carnforth, to use to breed herd replacements from his own heifers and build herd numbers up to 100 cows.

“He took my eye because he is a stylish bull with a sweet head and plenty of width,” said Kenny. “He is by the prolific AI sire Sympa which is very easy calving and out of the dam UVA.

“I’m looking to produce the best I can from the best of females and bulls I can afford. My philosophy is that it costs as much to produce a good calf as a bad one so you may as well go for quality,” he added.

Overthwaite Chartered with a heifer.
Overthwaite Chartered with a heifer

The herd is predominantly spring calving, with 50 to calve in the spring and the remainder in the autumn. Cows which are not in calf get another chance with the bull and those which are not fertile are sold.

As well as good fertility, good temperament is another important characteristic for Kenny who runs the cattle on his own as well as doing contracting work.

He has his own mower and baler which he uses for his own silage and for other contracting work. He also has a 25ft livestock trailer.

The cows are fed ad lib silage up to calving. Calves have access to creep feed from birth. They are fed barley, dark grains and sugar beet pulp to a maximum of 2.5 kg a day to prevent them putting on too much flesh, along with ad-lib silage.

The spring born calves are weaned a month after housing. They are vaccinated against pneumonia at housing and wormed at turnout.

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