On the farm with Quality Meat Scotland: Woodend Farm, West Lothian

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 30th April 2014

In association with

Woodend Farm is a farm assured supplier of Scotch Beef near Armadale, West Lothian. It is a typical upland farm situated at 650 – 1,000 feet above sea level and comprises 1,500 acres of natural grass, feeding 250 suckler beef cows of Luing and Simmental Cross breeds. Woodend uses a very extensive method of Scottish beef farming with cows having plenty of room to wander and graze on natural grass. According to Andrew McNee, who owns Woodend Farm with his father, Roy, it is the extensive nature of their system that produces healthy cows and great quality Scotch Beef.  “Super-intensive fed cattle don’t have the same flavour,” says Andrew. “A lot of the systems in other countries are just about cereal diets. I don’t think that’s the best way to produce good beef. Our cattle are grown on grass and just grow at a steady rate, that way they get time to grow and time to mature more naturally.” At Woodend it’s not just about extensiveness of space but also of time. Calves are kept with their mothers for the first nine months of their lives. “It’s the most natural way to grow them, on their mother’s milk,” says Andrew. After nine months the calves are moved on to silage or hay and some concentrate before being sold on to specialist finishers where they are reared for another year These finishing farms can be any number of lowland units which bid for the calves at auction. They are all farm assured as well and the McNee’s have built up an important relationship with them over the years getting feedback to make sure they’re providing the right kind of product. “There’s no point us producing a product that doesn’t meet the right specifications at the other end,” says Andrew, “so we need to keep ourselves educated, so to speak.” Now is the time of year when all that education comes good; calving starts in March and continues for nine weeks. It’s an extremely busy time with working days that start at five am and continue until ten at night. This year’s spring calving is almost done with just six of the 150 cows yet to calve. The other 100 cows from the 250-strong herd being calved in the summer. The breed of cows is carefully selected to match the terrain and the kind of cow that Woodend seeks to produce. Half the herd are Luing and the other half Simmental Cross Luing, the Simmental providing extra weight and the Luing being perfectly adapted to highland conditions, as well as being very maternal. “The Luing cow is a very good mother,” says Andrew. “She makes very good use of rough grazing and rears a very good calf under these conditions.” The Luing itself is relatively modern Scottish breed. It was first developed in the sixties by the Cadzow brothers on the isle of Luing near Oban. It was developed by crossing the beef Shorthorn with hardy Highland cattle to produce an animal that could graze on high hill ground all year but with the extra weight of flesh of the Beef Shorthorn. Andrew McNee with piper at Canary Wharf Once the new breed was recognised by the government, the first cattle were sold at auction in Oban in 1966. It was an event attended by Andrew’s father Roy and his grandfather Bob. They bought one of the first Luings on the market and the family has been breeding and rearing them ever since. It was Andrew’s grandfather who first moved to West Lothian from California (not the Sunshine State, but a village near Falkirk), buying a farm in Blackridge in the early sixties which the family still farm. Woodend was bought in 1985 and is where Andrew, his wife Lorna and their three children Alastair (eight), Beth (five) and Faye (nine months) now live. The McNee's with Piper   The McNee’s journey doesn’t end there however. In February this year the family made the trip to London with Piper, their almost one-tonne prize Luing bull, to celebrate the United Nations International Year of Family Farming and to promote Scotch Beef in London and the South East. It was Alastair, Beth and Faye’s first time in the capital as well as Piper’s although the three McNee children got to fly whereas the 20-month-old bull had to make do with the back of a truck. Piper was well prepared for his trip though with the family designing a celebrity boot camp-style training regime to get him ready for the capital, acclimatising him to large groups of people as well as loud noises, flapping bags and scarves. “We had a lot of fun,” said Andrew, “and we were glad it didn’t rain because we discovered he wasn’t too keen on umbrellas.”  

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 30th April 2014

On the farm with Quality Meat Scotland: Woodend Farm, West Lothian