What we produce
Cattle and sheep farms
Some farms specialise in either cattle or sheep production, but many farms keep both. In Scotland, cattle and sheep are usually reared extensively – they are mainly fed outside and on grass and they are only housed in the worst weather or when they are lambing or calving. Many of these farms are in the LFA (Less Favoured Area) scheme and the combination of beef and sheep, sometimes mixed with a small area of cropped land, brings various benefits in biological and landscape diversity.
The beef industry is the single largest sector of Scottish agriculture. Scotch beef is world renowned for its quality. Scotland had just over 436,000 breeding beef cows in 2016. Total production of beef in 2015 was worth more than £675 million. Beef cattle are kept on almost 9,300 holdings. Scotland has almost 30 per cent of the UK herd of breeding cattle and four per cent of the EU herd. The UK beef herd is the second largest in Europe, after France. Some farmers rear beef cattle from birth until they are ready for slaughter. Farmers in the north-west of Scotland, for example, tend to rear beef cattle until they are between six and -12 months old and then sell them as ‘stores’ to farmers in lowland areas for fattening. Some lowland farmers only keep cattle for fattening or finishing and do not have any breeding animals. Beef is also produced from the male calves and unwanted female calves from the dairy herd. The majority of beef production operates through a quality assurance scheme with beef sold under the Specially Selected Scotch Beef brand
• There are around 2,600,000 ewes in Scotland.
• Three million finished lambs produced meat worth £176 million in 2015.
• Breeding sheep were kept on around 12,700 holdings.
• The average flock size in Scotland is just over 200 ewes.
• Scotland has more than 20 per cent of the UK breeding flock. The UK has the largest sheep flock in the EU – over a quarter of the total EU flock.
The industry is organised into three tiers: hill, upland and lowland. Hill flocks are in the main breeding flocks with the majority of ewe lambs retained as flock replacements for older ewes, which are generally sold on to farms on the slightly lower ground after four lamb crops. Upland flocks usually produce mule ewe lambs which are sought after by lowland breeders to cross with meat breed ‘terminal sires’. Lowland flocks tend to benefit from comparatively better climate, improved soil type and better grazing which combine to produce quality prime lamb.
• Scotland had 176,000 dairy cows in 2015. 1.5 billion litres of milk were produced worth more than £352 million.
• 1,000 holdings had dairy cattle with an average of 173 cows per holding.
• Scotland has approximately nine per cent of the UK dairy herd. The UK has the third largest dairy herd in the EU after France and Germany, and the largest average herd size.
More than 50 per cent of dairy cows are bred purely to produce replacement heifers. The rest are cross-bred with a variety of beef breeds to produce calves, some of which become breeding cattle in the beef herd. Dairy farms tend to be concentrated in the south-west of the country where grass growth is conducive to high yields. More than 90 per cent of Scottish dairy farms are members of the National Dairy Farm Assured Scheme (NDFAS) which sets strict standards for farm practices. As supplied by NFU Mutual Scotland.