On the farm with Quality Meat Scotland: Wedderlie

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Wedderlie in Berwickshire, is a 2500 acre farm home to award winning Aberdeen Angus cattle. The Staff Canteen spoke to the Tilson family who run the farm which won 2014 Scotch Beef Farm of the Year. Agriscot 2014 QMS Awards02 low resIt takes great raw material and considerable farming expertise to make great Scotch Beef. Seventy per cent of the Scottish national cattle herd are traditional beef breeds and not dairy breeds which predominate elsewhere. Of these traditional beef breeds there is none more famous than the iconic Aberdeen Angus. There have been Aberdeen Angus cattle on Wedderlie since the First World War and the Wedderlie prefix needs no introduction to discerning cattle breeders from around the globe Owners, John and Marion Tilson and their daughter, Wanda Hobbs were thrilled to be presented with the 2014 Scotch Beef Farm of the Year award, which is run by Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) and Agriscot. Marion said: "We did not think we had much chance as a pedigree herd up against the commercial producers so it came as quite a surprise when we won. “It was a reward for being recognised for what we’ve been aiming at for a long time and a great addition to the centenary year that we’ve had.” The family are totally dedicated to producing top quality livestock and their attention to detail within both the cattle and sheep enterprises is key to their success. But how do they maintain a standard they are now so well known for? “Sometimes it’s just luck!” Explained Marion. “It’s very difficult but we stick to our objectives and remember the market we are aiming for.” The 200 pedigree Angus cows are split into spring and autumn calving. Around 60% of the bull calves are kept entire, either for use in their own herd or for sale as breeding bulls. Marion said: "We sell very few at sales now as we have a good customer base who like to buy direct from the farm."C110_FIELD150dpi For the last three years, in January, they have produced a catalogue of bulls for sale, which helps prospective buyers choose their preferred animal and Marion believes this has been a great success. The remaining bull calves are castrated and sold. The best of the heifer calves are retained in the herd and have their first calf at two years old. John said: "Calving at two years is important. It means females are likely to be good milkers for the rest of their breeding life and this is more efficient.” Aberdeen Angus cattle are naturally good mothers who produce a lot of milk for their calves. This means stronger, healthier calves and more progeny produced during the entire breeding life. The Wedderlie bloodlines are greatly sought after by other farmers so there is always a strong demand for the surplus heifers for breeding, while the bottom third are sold locally as suckled calves. Marion said: "We believe it is the commercial side of the business which gives us an advantage in the pedigree sales”. QMS - Farm of the year.Pic shows the Tilson family, John, wifeThey are also advocates of line breeding from proven bloodlines and some of the existing cows go back to the original foundation females from over 100 years ago. Producing great Scotch Beef does not happen by accident. The Tilson's rely heavily on their expertise as stock people to identify the right animals for replacements and breeding based on correctness of conformation, good legs and the ability to move well combined with femininity for the cows. The Aberdeen Angus is renowned as a placid, easy to handle breed of cattle which thrives on grass and natural herbage. The cows are easy to calve, are good mothers and have long and productive lives. They are ideally suited to Scottish farms like Wedderlie and are widely used in commercial herds where traditionally breeds are crossed to combine strengths and meet specific requirements. The Aberdeen Angus has a smaller frame than many of the Continental breeds, and produces smaller muscles which are sought after by chefs but the value must be spread over all cuts. Marion and her family appreciate this need to use all of the carcase and Marion particularly likes some of the secondary cuts - her own favourites include shin and brisket. She said: “I always like experimenting with different cuts such as shin and using the secondary cuts of meat is becoming more popular. People should try them, there’s a lot of innovative work being done to develop these cuts and add value to them. It is worth remembering that the fillet is less than 1% of the carcase by weight but can be over 25% by value!” Click here for more Scotch Beef recipes
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The Staff Canteen

Editor 22nd January 2015

On the farm with Quality Meat Scotland: Wedderlie