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Oban Times – March/April 017

 

Ewen Campbell, SRUC’s Kirkton & Auchtertyre research farms manager

 

 

The cows have all finished calving now – with only the heifers  left to calf over the coming few weeks. We have had 22 calves so far from 22 cows, which all managed to calf without any help. The cows and heifers all went to a Shorthorn bull and the calves are very robust looking with a good coat on them. The ‘cow-cam’ has helped our management tremendously, allowing us to be more efficient and save labour but just as importantly ensuring we could keep a watchful eye on the cows in case anything was going amiss. Thankfully nothing did this year, but it was a comfort knowing we had the ability to check the cows remotely all times of the day or night.

 

But now, it is time to turn our attention to the sheep and lambing preparations are now in full swing. At scanning time the ewes were carrying 797 lambs in our Kirkton research flock and 526 lambs in our high hill flocks in Auchtertyre and the Corrie. As always the challenge is to keep as many of these lambs alive as possible, not an easy task!  Lambing is scheduled to start on the 20th April for the Kirkton flock and the week later for the Auchtertyre and Corrie flocks, so we are going to be very busy in the coming weeks.

 

Just as well we have some additional help! A French student, Agathe Malzac, has arrived from sunny Bordeaux in the South West of France, to spend five months with us. Agathe is a student at AgroParisTech, a university which trains students to Master of Science level in agriculture and agronomy. Agathe has already worked on a number of different farms in France, including sheep farms in the Southern Alps, and is keen now to understand and experience the Scottish hill sheep system. Agathe will help us at lambing time to tag and record the lambs being born in the Auchtertyre and the Corrie flocks, to see if we can shed some light on our lamb mortality rates and the Blackloss issue we are facing there. It will be labour demanding, but hopefully we will get vital information as to how many lambs are actually being born. We will then be able to compare these numbers with what we got at scanning, and with what we will find later on in the year at marking and weaning.

 

Once lambing is finished, I am sure we will find more tasks for Agathe to do, as we are never short of activities here!

 

This has been a very ‘French’ month for us. As well as Agathe arriving, we also hosted a visit for a group of 20 French farmers from the South West of France (near Carcassonne and Toulouse). This visit has been organised via our EU funded project “SheepNet”, in which my colleague Claire Morgan-Davies, from SRUC’s Hill & Mountain Research Centre, is involved. This group of French farmers, which calls itself “Robustagno” (“Robust Lamb”), is an EU Operational Group, which aims to discuss and tackle specific problems about lamb mortality. It is being coordinated by the French Livestock Institute. The group was composed of farmers, but also advisors and trainers, cooperative representatives and vets. They spent one (very wet) evening at Kirkton and Auchtertyre, where we showed them our handling facilities and where we discussed the issues facing hill farmers. We had a very long discussion about weaning rates and Blackloss, as well as our sheep systems in general. They were very impressed by the scale of our hill farms in Scotland, and surprised at our average 2.5 metres of annual rainfall!

 

In south-west France, their issues are more to do with the very high and low temperatures, especially in the sheds where their animals spend the winter and where they lamb before being turned out onto pasture in the spring. They also often have three lambings over two years. Claire Morgan-Davies, and Poppy Frater, SAC Consulting’s Sheep Specialist, then took the group to visit three more sheep farms, one at Arnprior 12 miles west of Stirling, one near Galashiels and the final one near Lanark. Although these farms are not as extreme as ours here, it was still interesting for them to compare and contrast with their situation. They also visited Castlelaw, the SRUC upland farm just south of Edinburgh, and the SRUC CT scanning unit. They were full of questions about Scottish sheep farming in general, and the way we manage lambing in particular. It was a very busy but enriching three days. They might be able to reciprocate such a visit, and I probably would not mind spending three days in the South of France myself!

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