Preston Farm is a family-run business and high-quality beef producer in the uplands of West Lothian, Scotland. Over the last 20 years, farmer Scott Aitken has introduced significant changes to the farm and developed a breeding program that has improved the health of his herd and improved its profitability.
Preston Farm is run on a daily basis by Billy and his sons, Scott and John. Purchased in the late 1930s by Billy’s grandfather, it is a testament to the family that both sons, now fourth generation farmers, continue to follow in the family tradition.
In 1998, Scott and John, with the support and backing of their father and mother, Caroline, altered their breeding program to enable them to rear all their beef cattle for slaughter rather than selling them at weaning. This change in policy required substantial investment, but with foresight and dedication from all the family they now operate an agricultural business equipped to face the challenges of today’s dynamic marketplace.
Certification and assurance
The farm is a member of the Quality Meat Scotland farm assurance scheme, which is independently audited and certified to ensure high standards of animal welfare and environmental care are being implemented on the farm. Being able to market the cattle as “assured” also ensures the farm receives a premium price for its beef.
Animal health and welfare
The farm has introduced a number of measures to help maintain animal health and welfare.
It is an accredited Bovine Viral Diarrhea (BVD)-free herd, having taken part in a vaccination and eradication program through the HI Health scheme that operates in Scotland.
The suckler herd has also been reduced in size to enable the farm to rear the young stock through to slaughter, rather than selling them as store cattle. This capitalizes on their quality genetics and HI Health status, and has improved factors such as feed conversion ratios and daily live weight gains, as well as increasing profits.
The farm also rears its own heifer replacements through a successful on-farm breeding program. This enables them to breed animals that display the characteristics the farm requires, such as good mothering ability, growth, temperament and health. This also greatly reduces the biosecurity risks associated with having to buy in replacement heifers.
Breeding bulls are carefully selected and sourced from accredited HI Health herds to ensure an equivalent health status. Easy calving bulls are also actively selected to reduce the incidence of calving problems and benefit the health of both dam and calf.
The farm generates both solid manure and slurry, which are used on the land to improve the productivity of grass and cereal crops, and reduce the requirement for purchasing artificial fertilizers.
Biodiversity and ecosystems
The farm includes a 12-hectare wetland that has been designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and provides an important habitat for an endangered species of mud snail.
As a member of the McDonald’s Sustainable Beef club, the farm has taken part in a four-year program measuring its on-farm carbon emissions. As a result of the assessment, the farm has identified areas for improvement and reduced its carbon footprint by 10%.
Learn more about Scott Aitken’s story
Explore the case study, where you’ll find extra details on how the farm has performed against the program’s good practice standards and criteria, what external research reveals about the producer’s actions and how improved sustainability benefits them.
“Dedicated to producing quality stock which for over 15 years we have marketed through Scotbeef at Bridge of Allan. We were delighted when McDonald’s approached us to become a Flagship Farmer. McDonald’s recognizes and respects the philosophy of our business; ultimately we strive to produce quality beef in harmony with the environment and ensure future sustainability for our business and our family.”
“The management of the farm’s land and environment is also impressive, with an area designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest providing a rare and valuable habitat for an endangered species of snail. Preston Farm shows it is possible to operate and run a successful beef enterprise while protecting the natural environment.”