Sustainable approach delivers success at Kingan
23 Apr 2020
The Kingan family run Kingan Farms in New Abbey near Dumfries where five generations of the family have produced beef over the past 150 years. A forward thinking and dynamic business, the farm has recently won the accolade of AgriScot Scotch Beef Farm of the Year against fierce competition from other progressive farms in Scotland.
The original farm business started as James Kingan & Son back in 1878 trading as a feed, haulage and sawmill business. Still very much a family affair, today the farm is run by Alistair and his wife, Suzi along with Alistair’s parents, Margaret and Russell. The dedicated team all have defined roles within the partnership, with Margaret buying the cattle, Russell fixing and maintaining the machinery, Suzi in charge of the books and cottages, and Alistair running the day to day cattle operation and managing the team. They are ably assisted by three full time team members, stockmen Gordon McKenna and Michael Clingan and Murray White who works on the contracting side of the business. The team manage 475 hectares across four sites, finishing approximately 1,400 cattle a year comprising of both continental and native breeds.
The business has evolved over the years, responding to changes in the market and seizing opportunities that fit its system. In 2014 the farm started up its Biomass fuel operation and it has also diversified into the leisure market with holiday cottages and plans afoot to start holiday pods in the near future. Amidst the harsh market conditions posed by the beef industry, these ventures along with the contracting business help to spread the risk and keep the business running.
Creating a product that fits the market
At the heart of each venture is a clear focus on creating a product that fits the market and a constant desire to improve, not forgetting sheer hard work. For the cattle operation the team’s clear goal is to ‘produce top quality Scotch beef in a sustainable and ethical manner,’ and each stage of the system has been designed with this in mind. This starts with the sourcing of the cattle.
Approximately 70% of the cattle are bought privately from local farms and the team work closely with these farms to ensure the cattle produced will thrive in their system, regularly feeding back performance data to ensure the cattle supplied can be finished to the requirements of their contract. The aim is to source well bred, high performing calves with a good confirmation that will go on to achieve the performance and deadweight required by the contract.
Once on farm the cattle are separated into different groups according to weight and breed and they stay in these groups throughout which means they are more settled and content and therefore perform better. They are out through the summer, making the most of the grass during which time resources are turned to growing a mix of barley, wheat and oats to ensure there is a sustainable source of quality feed to see them through the winter. The youngstock are fed silage, Maxammon treated oats, wholecrop and minerals and the growing and finishing stocks’ diets consist of Maxammon barley, wholecrop, silage and minerals, with variations for the continental and native bred animals. Alistair mentioned that “since introducing Maxammon he had seen improvements in DLWG of approximately 0.2kg with an additional benefit of removing the exposure to the external protein market.”
Monthly meetings are held between Alistair and Harbro beef and sheep specialist Peter Oag where data is analysed and performance scrutinised, allowing for rations to be tweaked to meet the changing needs of the cattle as well as market requirements. Although numerous variables are studied, efficiency is a key focus with the team constantly monitoring cost per kilo gain and cost per kilo liveweight/deadweight to understand margin per beast.
The team work closely with each touchpoint within the supply chain to ensure the quality of the meat is maintained throughout the process. The farm have supplied Stoddarts for over 17 years and Alistair and Peter take a keen interest in the kill sheets to gain a thorough understanding of the production process and how quality throughout can be optimised for the consumer.
Rations created for meat eating quality
Ensuring consistency is essential for the quality of the meat, as well as looking after the animals and treating them well. The rations are created with eating quality in mind with a focus on feeding for marbling and producing eye muscle which suits the requirements of the end user. A key feature of the ration that enables the Kingans to achieve this quality is Harbro’s unique mineral Beef Max plus Rumitech. Rumitech is a natural feed additive which enables the animal to obtain more from the feed by reducing energy lost as methane, with this reduction of 6%/animal/day assured by the Carbon Trust.
Under mounting pressure from both consumer groups as well as the media, the reduction of methane emissions in cattle production is becoming increasingly important to key players within the supply chain, with many of the main retailers having set targets to reduce their emissions. The Co-op are one such organisation with an ambitious target for carbon reduction and with Kingan Farms currently one of their ‘Gold Star Aberdeen Angus producers,’ this reduction in emissions is likely to pay the farm a premium in the future.
An additional benefit of feeding Rumitech that has been highlighted in numerous research trials and experienced first hand at Kingan is the increased ability of the animal to put down muscle in the right areas along with improved killing out percentages and grading. These factors help contribute to the eating quality of the meat produced on the farm which has seen it in demand at top restaurants across the country where it can often be seen displayed in dry aged cabinets, enticing the discerning consumer.
Alistair admits it’s been a challenging time within the industry but rather than accept the status quo is determined to scrutinise his system to look for further opportunities for improvement. He believes that a precision farming approach that harnesses the power of technology will deliver both financial benefits at the same time as reducing environmental impact as the farm continues to move forward increasing its efficiency.
It seems that resilience, agility and being aware of the market are key to survival in todays climate.