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Oban Times December 2018

Ewen Campbell, SRUC’s Kirkton & Auchtertyre farms manager

 So Christmas is almost upon us once again and it has certainly been a very eventful year when more than just the weather went to extremes. As winter drew to a close we were battered by the “Beast from the East” and sadly it was just too much for many hill sheep. However at the same time, those lucky enough to still have some fat lambs to sell enjoyed a bumper trade, the best seen for many years, maybe ever! Unfortunately those finishers who benefited from this windfall did nothing to help the price of store lambs this back end and small Blackface lambs struggled to sell.

Grassland management was also a challenge with nearly eighteen months of persistent rain coming to an end mid way through lambing and turning to near drought conditions by mid July. Great for making hay and silage but the crop was very light. Normal conditions returned in August and when they did, the grass growth was tremendous. We even managed a second cut of silage, something which no one here can remember happening before! The autumn has been ok and the ewes are in great condition so hopefully we can look forward to a decent crop of lambs next year.

The farms activities are winding down a bit before Christmas. Our last batch of lambs has been sent to the abattoir. In total, 421 lambs were sold, mostly going to Scotbeef, however one group of 48 was sold through UA in Stirling as we had so many ready at one time and Scotbeef could not take any more. Grades have been pretty consistent this year; 78% fell within the market specification of R2 or better with over half getting R3L. Some lambs went over fat and received grades of R3H and U3H, which do not receive as high a price but Scotbeef could not always take the lambs, so they had to stay in the shed until we could get them booked in. Overall, it has been a very successful lamb finishing season with good grades and good prices. The ewe lambs have been sent to off-wintering as usual. 267 went to their usual wintering in Airdrie and 136 went to SRUC Crichton in Dumfries. They will come back in March next year.  All our rams are with the ewes now for the mating season, we will then put them into their chasing groups just before Christmas and the rams will come out in the New Year.

The Aberdeen-Angus cows are in the shed for the winter, a little bit earlier than usual! This is to save on silage as they eat a fair bit less when they are inside. The downside is that we use more straw, but straw has not been too hard to source whereas hay has been very difficult to find. So we plan to use the very dry first cut haylage we made to feed to the sheep, instead of hay. Our Highland cows will be outside all winter as they hardly notice the weather!

With all the beasties in their right place, my colleagues and I have also been busy with other research and demonstration activities. We have had a number of visitors this past month. In particular, we had a group of farmers from Estonia, from the island of Muhu. They were quite impressed with the breadth of research and demonstration we are doing here on the farms.

On the continental vein, my colleague Claire Morgan-Davies has also participated in the 4th international SheepNet workshop in Sardinia. As you may recall, SheepNet is an EU project based around networking and exchanges of good practices between farmers, advisors and consultants in Europe, to improve sheep productivity. SRUC is one of the project partners. This workshop in Sardinia was quite a large one, with 10 sheep countries represented, and around 80 participants. There were many opportunities for discussion and exchanges. As well as an indoor session, which particularly focused on ewe body condition scoring, as well as on use of technology, participants also had a day of visits. They saw two local Sardinian dairy farms. Their schedule is different from our systems here, and they were already lambing, in time for providing milk lambs for the Christmas market, and having a high milk production for the Pecorino cheese production. There was also a visit to one of the large cooperative owned cheese factories in the area that makes the Sardinian Pecorino and Ricotta cheeses. These events are always a really good occasion to exchange practices, ideas and cultures about sheep production. The next international workshop will be in Ireland, in June 2019, and the last one will be in France in September 2019. These workshops are open to all farmers, so if you are interested and want to register to participate, check the project website (

That’s it now from me; I wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

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