Top Quartile Project

The Top Quartile project has been established by Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) to drive improvements in a Scottish livestock business with two suckler herds. This is being measured through the net margin of the business with the focus on moving it from average performance to top quartile performance when compared to the annual QMS Cattle and Sheep Enterprise Profitability report. The farm currently submits data to this report and is currently showing average performance.  All measures are being recorded and reported through this website. The project is being delivered by Rhidian Jones and Gavin Hill of SAC Consulting’s Beef and Sheep Select team.

The 2014 QMS Cattle and Sheep Enterprise Profitability in Scotland booklet has shown upland suckler herds producing year old store calves return an average Gross Margin of £344/cow while those in the top third have a Gross Margin of nearly £570/cow. This is a difference of £226/cow and in many cases is the gap that herds need to close to replace the potential shortfall in future support payments. It is achieved through attention to detail in technical aspects of suckler beef production.

Top third farms (in 2013)

  • Reared 7 more calves per 100 cows
  • Produced 44kg more calf per cow bulled
  • Had calves that were worth £123 more per head
  • Had a lower replacement rate of 9% compared to 16%
  • Had variable costs that were £74/cow lower

This information offers direction to those seeking to improve profitability and centres on improving fertility, reducing replacement costs, producing a valuable product and reducing the costs of production. These areas all have one thing in common; they are within the control of the farmer unlike beef prices and support payments.

The Herds

·         One herd has pure native breed cows producing replacements for itself and the second crossbred herd. The cows calve in spring and are either bred pure or to another native breed bull.

·         Calves are weaned at housing and once herd replacements have been selected the surplus heifers are either transferred to the second herd, or sold for breeding from 12-18 months of age. Other stores will all be sold at turnout at around 12 months of age.

·         The other herd is a crossbred herd calving in spring with most calves sired by Charolais bulls to produce store cattle. These too are sold at turnout at around 12 months of age.

·         All cows are EID recorded to aid management.

·         All bulls are semen tested annually and bulling periods are around 11-12 weeks.

·         Bulls are run with groups of 30 to 35 cows in fields.


Target factors

  • Fertility  levels – currently the barren rate is over 10%
  • Losses at calving- higher than acceptable
  • Consequently from the previous two, the number of calves reared is below desired levels
  • Cattle health
  • Straw bedding costs
  • Grassland management
  • Spreading fixed costs