Learning lessons from US

12 October 2001

Learning lessons from US

A frightening time in the US

recently did not stop lessons

being learned by Tirinie

farmer Ian Duncan Millar.

Allan Wright reports

A FACT-FINDING visit by members of Quality Meat Scotland to beef and sheep production and processing facilities in the US had the group flying from Boston to Denver 24 hours before the terrorist attacks on Sept 11.

"It was the same airline, the same airport and the same time of day. That was scary and tempered the visit," says Ian Duncan Millar.

Even in the aftermath of the atrocity, he still felt the visit managed to raise some important issues for Scottish beef.

"The scale of beef operations was amazing. We saw one abattoir where quarterly throughput was as much as the total annual kill in Scotland. More interesting was the hygiene system, which accepts that cattle are dirty and uses hot water and mild organic acid to clean and sterilise the skinned carcass before processing.

"That is in sharp contrast to our system which concentrates on presenting clean animals and keeping the carcass dry. Two scientific communities have gone in opposite directions and who is to say that we are right?" says Mr Duncan Millar.

He also thinks we can learn from an independent grading system, which is based on estimating carcass yield and eating quality using the degree of marbling in the loin area as the yardstick.

"The result is a label at retail level which states the meat is USDA prime, choice or select. Our specially selected range has no quality description like that and it is something we should consider. We should also follow their example and promote more specialisation in our beef industry with specialist breeders, rearers and finishers."

Back at Tirinie, the latest foot-and-mouth regulations are still causing frustration. "The minister should decide if Scotland is free of F&M or not. To require a veterinary inspection of all store and breeding stock leaving a holding smacks of jobs for the boys.

"There should also be rather more respect given to hauliers by officials overseeing washing procedures. I know a driver who spent 16 hours in one week with a power hose in his hand and several more waiting to be inspected," says Mr Duncan Millar.

New sheep tagging arrangements are also unwelcome. "If there was added information, I would be in favour. But there is not. The consumer needs to know who produced a lamb, not that it was number one, two or three.

"The vets need to know who sold and who bought sheep. Individual numbers add nothing and are not being recorded at abattoirs, but they do add welfare problems and I have written to the minister about this."

Malting barley

Maltsters are the next in the firing line. "They have done their usual market manipulation by rejecting early loads, opening and closing maltings and getting the base feed price down so they can pay less than £80/t. I would leave malting barley tomorrow if I had an alternative crop," he says.`

His Decanter (for seed) yielded more than 6.8t/ha (2.8t/acre), compared with 5t/ha (2.0t/acre) for both Chariot and Chalice. The latter did better than early expectations and is scheduled to go for malting, but the Chariot skinned and had a touch of fusarium. Some has been sold damp at £62/t and the rest will be retained for feeding at home.

Six beef heifers with July/August born calves have left Tirinie at £800 apiece in a private deal with a regular buyer. Other customers have been telephoned and Mr Duncan Millar is confident he will sell the remaining five without any marketing expenses and be above budget.

"We lost two calves at birth and that has pushed me back to using AI and a sire selected for ease of calving. He has good growth performance figures as well. There is a clear management advantage of using estimated breeding values to suit individual needs."

Lamb sales are less encouraging, with the latest batch from Tirinie down £6.50 on the year at £26.60 after charges. The running average is now £29, down £4.70. Prices have fallen, but Mr Duncan Millar is still convinced lambs will be in demand by the spring. "I have plenty of keep and have stopped selling for the moment."

He also questions the merit of the early live sales of store lambs. "A seller had used up his one permitted movement and was forced to sell at any price because the next move had to be to slaughter. The marts should have waited until November when a second movement will be permitted, while brokering alternative deals." &#42

The best Blackface tup lambs have been performance tested and blood genotyped for scrapie resistance, says Ian Duncan Millar.


&#8226 Tirinie, a 129ha (318-acre) mixed arable and stock farm in north-west Perthshire, farmed by Ian Duncan Millar. It has been in the family for 40 years.

&#8226 The land is a mix of sandy loam over gravel near the rivers Tay and Lyon, and medium loam away from rivers.

&#8226 Main arable crop is spring barley for malting and seed contracts. Turnips are grown for wintering sheep.

&#8226 Sheep flock of 300 Mule and Texel cross ewes. Lambs are finished and sold through a local lamb marketing group.

&#8226 Suckled calves bought privately from one farm. Males finished intensively, best heifer calves kept for breeding and sold with calves at foot.

&#8226 Farm staff of one, for tractor work.

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