Hardy, docile Beef Shorthorn cattle are part of the beautiful
Perthshire landscape grazing at up to 1,500ft on the heather
hill above Glenisla House.
|John Gibb with Highland
cows and crossbred calves and stock bull Glenisla Vagabond.
The traditional breed has been run on the Blairgowrie
hill farm since the 1970s and for the last 15 years Major
John Gibb has been breeding the cattle pure for his Glenisla
herd, calving 60 females each spring.
Major Gibb and his wife Anne run the easily-managed cattle
with daughter Catriona and the farm’s stockman of 30
years Arthur Lawrence alongside a flock of 650 Scotch Blackface
breeding ewes, some of which are bred pure for replacements,
with the remainder crossed with the Border Leicester and the
The farm’s 3,000 acres run from the valley bottom of
the River Isla at 1,000ft above sea level – where there
are only 200 acres – to the higher hill ground and improved
land at up to 1,500ft which is also home to a herd of wild
Glenisla House has been in the family since 1918 and Major
Gibb, the third generation, took over in 1966.
He believes the Beef Shorthorn is ideally suited to the farm
which was organic for five years until two seasons ago after
the Gibbs’ son Alastair decided to make a new life in
New Zealand. However, it is still run along organic lines – with
the exception of the occasional use of sprays for dockens – as
grass yields were found to be just as good as under the conventional
The decision was made partly because of the farm’s
short summer season and that organic livestock was not commanding
the premium it had done previously and partly because of the
increased paperwork required for organic status.
Keen to promote the breed, some time ago Major Gibb was behind
the establishment of the October sale of pedigree Beef Shorthorn
heifers at Perth which now regularly attracts an entry of
He enters up to 20 mostly in-calf heifers aged 18 to 19 months
old, including in the draft animals with good beef values.
“The Beef Shorthorn cow is as good as any other cow
in the world, if not better,” says Major Gibb, and the
popularity of the heifers sold at Perth is further endorsement
of this. The sale attracts newcomers to the breed as well
as commercial buyers.
with the Highland cows and crossbred calves
As well as the pure bred herd, he also runs a dozen Highland
cows which are successfully crossed with the Beef Shorthorn
and the heifer calves sold at a year old, also through the
market, are in big demand as suckler cow replacements.
“I think there is a real place for the Shorthorn. A
lot of commercial beef producers have no idea what the Shorthorn
is capable of achieving. We don’t get the shape and
muscle of a Limousin, but as far as the weight of a weaned
calf is concerned, its growth and docility, I don’t
think we can get much better.”
This year 11 bull calves have been kept entire and the best
are expected to weigh up to 400 kg at weaning at around 210
days with the average at 340kg. Heifer calves will have gained
an average of 1.05kg to 1.1kg a day.
The Glenisla herd was one of the first to be performance
recorded, the importance of which Major Gibb recognised during
two stints as president of the Shorthorn World Conference,
staged every three years when he saw that the breed was recorded
around the world. The herd was initially recorded with Signet
and with Breed Plan, the latter of which it continues to be.
The herd begins calving in early March. Glenisla House has
a short growing season and it suits the Gibbs to sell stock
off the farm at a particular time, whether beef cattle or
lambs, even though prices are not always at their peak.
Early spring calving helps prevent the need to house cattle
for a second winter on straw which is proving expensive for
bedding because of the local demand for it to store carrots
as well as haulage costs.
Heifers are calved at two years old and, as they are still
growing, special attention is paid to them in the first month
to six weeks post calving including feeding a small supplement
of oats to prevent them becoming too thin. This helps them
get back in calf easily.
The older cows are only fed minerals after calving and no
creep is fed to the calves.
The cows and calves are moved onto the improved pastures
in early May until the end of October when the castrated male
calves and heifer calves are weaned and returned to the hill
after housing for several nights.
Depending on the weather, the cattle are outwintered for
as long as possible, with housing usually in February just
prior to calving. They are fed grass silage, with no concentrate,
and a seaweed mineral which gives enough iodine to help prevent
Homeopathic treatments are also used to a limited extent.
At weaning at the end of October, calves are dosed with a
homeopathic treatment against pneumonia.
The in-calf females are divided into four groups for calving
after being pregnancy diagnosed in September so that a check
can be kept.
Stock bulls include Fearn Wyvis, now in his second season
with the herd at three and a half years old, which was bought
at Perth from Ross-shire breeders James and John Scott with
great emphasis being placed by Major Gibb on his high beef
For sale at the United Auctions sale at Perth on October
23 is the home-bred two year old bull Glenisla Exuberant which
has been running with the 18 heifers which will also be for
Running with the Highland cattle during the summer months
after serving some of the pure bred Shorthorn cows is the
home-bred bull Glenisla Vagabond. The three and a half year
old bull is by the Australian AI sire Belmore Fuel Injected.
Bulls are selected for their ability to produce good females,
keeping Maine Anjou influence fairly low.
As well as running a small AI programme to speed up herd
genetic development, Major Gibb has tried to build up a naturally
polled herd of cattle.
Through the use of naturally-polled bulls, around 85 per
cent of the cows are now without horns. Major Gibb sees it
as an important welfare issue for calves which, when dehorned
in the summer, can suffer attack from flies and also eases
Again, he has adopted this policy from his knowledge of the
breed elsewhere in the world where the majority of Beef Shorthorns – as
well as other breeds – are naturally polled. However
in selecting cattle without horns, Major Gibb is keen not
to have animals which are either too light boned or too heavy
boned, the latter potentially leading to calving difficulties.
Up to 30 finished cattle are sold mainly in September with
some kept through to November. They are fed a small supplement
from mid-August before selling to Scotbeef, at Bridge of Allan,
Stirling, for a 5p per kg premium. Major Gibb is looking for
a carcase weight of 300kg at R4L which most achieve.
“At the time I went into the Beef Shorthorn, breed
numbers had declined severely. If I had gone into a continental
breed then I would have been chasing the leaders and I thought
I could contribute something to modernise the Beef Shorthorn
“They are attractive cattle with the benefit of docility,
hardiness, ease of management and calving as well as the commercial
attributes of good growth and tasty meat with some marbling.”
© Copyright 2006 Jennifer
MacKenzie All Rights
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