Research at Portnellan

Portnellan is a 230-acre, family-run farm on the south-eastern shore of Loch Lomond. The farm was bought by the Scott- Park family in 1952 as a mixed farm with cattle, sheep, pigs, hens and some crops. Jock, David’s father, built up a herd of dairy cows, Ayrshires and Friesians. David joined his father on the farm in 1981.

The family converted to organic milk production in 2000 ,but within 10 years, low milk prices meant dairy production was unsustainable. The farm underwent a business review in 2010 and it was evident that converting to organic beef production alone could not support the families on the farm.

David said: “Without external income for the farm, we could not continue, and we wanted Chris, our son, to join us. So we looked to diversify, while still keeping the cows the focus of what we do.”

Chris and David manage the cattle; both take great pride in their cows, renowned for their placid nature and quiet demeanour – important because Portnellan is a teaching farm for Glasgow University Vet School and the students learn their handling and clinical skills around the cows and young stock.

The farm values its closed-herd status and does not have a bull, using artificial insemination (AI) to ensure gold-standard biosecurity and using AI to acquire the best genetics for desirable traits, such as easy calving and excellent conformation.

Portnellan has a breeding herd of 40 cows and carries between 100 and 140 cattle. Chris is interested in improving the genetics, ensuring optimal conformation without allowing the cattle to get too big so that heavy feet don’t poach the steep, often wet, fields and for comfortable winter housing in the old dairy cubicles.

The cattle are kept on a grass-only diet; however, it was noticeable in 2017 that the grass yields were dropping. Portnellan is true permanent pasture, having not been reseeded for more than 40 years.

David said: “Native breeds are well suited to our system. As we are organic, the only fertiliser we use is our slurry. Last summer, e soil sampled every field on the farm and on the strength of that, spread lime over the whole farm – a big investment, but I was happy to see an improvement in grass yield by the autumn.

“Increased grass quality is reflected in the condition of the cattle, all in superb condition. We operate a paddock grazing system to optimise grass growth and maintain the sward in good condition.

David is using a new app on his phone to access cow records and record breeding information in the field.

He said: “When I see a cow bulling, I can look up the record of that cow and call the inseminator. The phone gives me the calving date, when she was last in season and when to expect her next heat; it’s very useful to have that information at my fingertips. We also find tail paint a very useful indicator of heat.”

Although tourism ventures account for more than half of the business’s income, the cattle remain central to Portnellan.