Glenkilrie, Perthshire (Beef and sheep)

David and Morag Houstoun.

Glenkilrie is an upland beef and sheep farm made up of over 1,000 hectares, of which 27 ha is forestry, 770 ha is hill/rough grazing and the remainder is in-bye. The business carries 140 suckler cows, half spring and half autumn calving, with calves sold as stores and 1000 ewes divided into two flocks, one blackfaced and one crossbred with all lambs sold finished.

How might Climate Change affect Glenkilrie?

The prospect of Climate Change bringing a warmer climate during the summer in Scotland is not a bad one, but wetter winters and more extreme weather events could have a major impact on the farming system at Glenkilrie.

The winter housing period for cattle is already 200 days; cattle are taken off grassland in autumn due to risk of poaching rather than cold weather. Extended wetter conditions could mean a longer housing period, which could also include sheep.

Storage of manure and slurries could become an issue if conditions did not allow machinery on the land during the winter months. New slurry storage comes at an additional substantial cost to the business.

A longer housing period could lead to increased requirements for conserved forage such as silage and hay, again bringing a cost to the business. Extra land used for making additional forage means less land would be available for grazing.

A warmer summer period may well increase grass production at Glenkilrie; it would need to be considerably drier than present before drought conditions are likely. Looking ahead, increased costs associated with longer winters could make the business less competitive in the production of beef and lamb.

Measures to optimise fuel and energy use

With energy bills on the increase, ways to make best use of the spend on electricity and fuel are welcome.  David looked at the following measures:

  • Electricity use: Glenkilrie has a low electricity demand around the steading. Options for low energy light bulbs and motion sensitive external lights were identified.
  • Fuel use: higher than benchmark fuel use suggested there could be scope for savings.
  • Machinery: matched the correct sized tractor to the job where possible and made sure equipment was well maintained (e.g. correct tyre pressure).
  • Feed mixer wagon: ensured the mixer was only operational for the minimum time and not left running whilst carrying out other jobs e.g. bedding cattle. A daily 15 minute reduction in operation reduced fuel use by 600 litres, saving £450 and 1.9 tonnes of CO2 per year.
  • Straw transport: assessed alternative options for transporting straw to reduce costs.
  • Quad bike: identified fuel use associated with the quad. Considering replacement of the petrol quad with an electric powered quad bike.  It is estimated it would cost around £50 in electricity to cover 3,650 miles, compared with £1,160 of petrol.  Using electric instead of petrol to power the quad would save 2 tonnes of CO2.

Sheep Management

During a discussion group meeting on the farm, SAC sheep specialist John Vipond set David a challenge to make better use of the high quality silage which had been produced. With a pit silage analysis of ME at 11.4 MJ/kgDM, a D Value of 71% and protein content of 13.8%, David was able to take full account of the nutrition in the silage. As a result of knowing the feed value of the pit silage, David began feeding concentrates to his 1042 ewes two weeks later than usual and fed less feed for the remaining six weeks. The result was a total reduction in concentrates fed pre-lambing of 13.5 tonnes. This is a saving of just under £3,000 and 4.84 tonnes of carbon with no loss of production.


Assessing the potential for renewables at Glenkilrie highlighted that there could be scope for a small scale (13kW) hydro scheme and various sizes of wind turbines.  After further, more detailed analysis the outcomes were:

  • Installed anemometer to measure wind speed showed speeds were lower than predicted.
  • Micro hydro site identified was too far away from farm to be a viable prospect at this stage.
  • Scope for solar PV: reviewing as prices for panels and installation reduces.
  • Considering biomass boiler: awaiting confirmation of details of the Domestic RHI scheme.

Based on the commercial RHI scheme, a desk study identified that installation of a biomass boiler for the farmhouse could receive an income of around £6,350  and a saving in fuel costs of £3,437 per year by using home produced wood chip in place of purchased heating oil.  This could save 14.7 tonnes of CO2 per year

Fertilisers and Manures

The majority of the phosphate and potash is utilised on the land on which it is spread. Much of the grassland has a good clover content, providing an additional source of nitrogen.

  • Regular soil sampling: identified some fields low in P and pH. Silage fields with a pH outside target values could be losing 30% of potential yield. A programme of targeted nutrient application and liming is underway to optimise soil fertility and maximise yields.   Priority was given to better silage fields and those identified for reseeding.
  • GPS soil analysis: assessed viability of GPS soil analysis on an upland farm. Variation in the soil pH within fields justified the use of GPS sampling for pH but not enough variability in P & K was shown to justify analysis costs at Glenkilrie.
  • Farm yard manure and slurry storage: assessed options for farm slurry storage to maximise nitrogen value. Currently not cost effective to construct slurry tower based on N savings.

Both financial and carbon benefits are expected to be seen in future years as a result of building soil nutrient status to target levels.

Cattle Management

  • Condition scoring: cows and ewes were grouped based on condition score and fed accordingly. This makes best use of feed and can result in less calving/lambing difficulties from over fat or over lean animals.
  • Feed value of pit silage: based on silage analysis results, David was able to feed concentrates to his 1,042 ewes two weeks later than usual and fed less feed for the remaining six weeks. The result was a total reduction in concentrates fed pre-lambing of 13.5 tonnes.  This is a saving of just under £3,000 and 4.84 tonnes of CO2e with no loss of production.
  • Animal health planning: Continuing to screen livestock to aid early identification of disease within the herd.
  • Maximising herd fertility: working towards a 95% calving percentage. Scanning cows to confirm they are in calf and removing those with poor fertility makes better use of feed and inputs and will improve herd performance over time.
  • Calving at 24 months: A group of heifers were calved at 24 rather than 36 months. It was estimated that if the whole herd was to calve at 24 months, 20 fewer replacements would be carried for a year, saving an estimated cost of £7,000 and 19.9 tonnes of CO2e.
  • Using EBV’s (Estimated Breeding Values) to select tups: the EBV can be used to select for traits such as daily live-weight gain or lambing ease, improving profitability on the farm.
  • Bedding cattle on chipped recycled wood: this has reduced straw use. Over the winter of 2012/2013, one tonne of recycled wood chip was £60 cheaper than straw, saving the business around £960 in straw costs and 2.7 tonnes of CO2e.  Cattle bedded on woodchip also required bedding less frequently, reducing labour time and tended to be cleaner.

Key Findings from Glenkilrie

  • Aim to maximise the performance of every animal on the farm
  • Monitoring is key to identifying current performance and opportunity for savings.
  • Technically efficient farms can still identify scope for savings; David saved around £11,000.
  • The carbon footprint at Glenkilrie reduced by 10% over the three year period; this figure was lower than expected due to poor weather in 2012/2013. Reductions in costs and emissions are expected as measures take effect on the farm (e.g. targeted spend on nutrients once soils are in balance, improved herd fertility).
  • Weather has a big impact on farm costs and emissions as farms adapt to cope with adverse weather.
  • Illustrated the benefits of implementing measures now to make the business more resilient to an uncertain climate in the future.



“We have not made any significant changes to the way we farm at Glenkilrie but we have made quite a few small changes which save a little money here and there. Taken altogether these changes could make a difference to the performance of the business with the added benefit of reducing the carbon footprint.” David Houstoun.


Find out more about how to maximise growth rates in the beef herd

Additional resources

Subscribe to our newsletter

Subscribe and stay up to date with our latest news & resources.