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Oban Times – June 2017


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



We have just come to the end of one of the best lambings I can remember. The weather was good, there was plenty of grass and the ewes were in good condition. The Kirkton BF and Lleyn flocks are both roughly 10% up on last year and the lambs are thriving on the lush grass that is available at the moment.


Our high hill flock at Auchtertyre has also finished lambing and has certainly profited from the favourable spring. This year, we are trying to get to the bottom of our “Blackloss” problem by tagging all the lambs being born in the hill parks before they were put to the hill. This will mean that come marking time we will know which lambs are missing and who their mothers are. We can then use this information to look for trends or similarities in the ewes which may shed some light on why they are missing. At the moment, we have tagged 406 lambs. Any dead lambs found on the hill were also subject to post-mortem to find the likely cause of death.


The cows have also finished calving and for them it has been a successful year. We got 27 calves out of our 27 cows. I am very pleased with the calves by the Shorthorn bull and it will be interesting to see if they grow as well as the Angus cross calves. The cows and calves are now out on the hill for the summer, where the calves receive no supplementary feeding. For the last three years we have weighed the cows and calves at weaning time to see how well the cows are working. The aim is for each cow to wean a calf that is 50% of her bodyweight, quite a challenge on hard, hill land. I’m delighted that one cow has managed this and a further eight have averaged 45% or above. No mean feat when farmers on much better land are aiming at 40%. Over the three years, our top cow had an average weight of 491kg and her calves averaged 246kg at an average 178 days from birth.


The good weather has meant that the grass growth is between three weeks and a month ahead of last year. As a result, I have shut 5 fields off for silage and sprayed one with glyphosate in preparation for ploughing. We also plan to use a contactor with a big square baler to make our silage this year as it is cheaper and we have found the square bales just as good to work with as round ones.


We have also been busy both at the Highland Sheep exhibition near Strathpeffer and at NorthSheep near Durham. It was nice to see some familiar faces whilst we were there, thanks for stopping and chatting with my colleagues on the SRUC stand. This year, we focused our stand display on our new EU collaborative projects which look at ewe longevity, on-farm labour, lamb mortality and hill sheep systems efficiency. Our plastic display sheep was certainly very efficient and non-labour demanding! We had long chats regarding ewe culling strategy, and our questionnaire on that topic went down very well with the farming public– possibly because we offered sweeties to anyone filling it in?!


We also had plenty visitors at Kirkton & Auchtertyre. We have just hosted a field visit for the Regional NFUS boards from Argyll & The Islands  and Forth & Clyde. Around 35 board members came to see us, and were shown the research we are doing here to encourage farmers to use technology and be more efficient. They were shown our handling facilities, and we discussed our research on how to use Electronic Identification to improve efficiency and labour on farm, as well as our research on different genetic lines and breeds. They also heard about our grassland management and how we will be using drones to detect weeds in our grass fields. They finished their tour with the cows and calves, and we touched on our efforts to tackle Blackloss. All in all, it was a lovely afternoon (the sunny weather did help I am sure) and it was great to see so many folks interested in what we are doing. We hope they enjoyed the visit as much as we did.


Finally, we welcomed another international group. My colleagues are part of an EU project called SheepNet, which I have already told you about in an earlier article. The consortium partners came to Kirkton last week to see what research and sheep handling facilities we have, ahead of a bigger international workshop that was held later in the week at SRUC’s main office buildings in Edinburgh. We had representatives from France, Romania, Turkey, Spain, Italy and Ireland. They were very impressed by the scale of our farm – both in terms of size and number of animals, which are very different from some of their own situations. This was especially the case for the French and Italians, who tend to have smaller dairy sheep flocks.


 The next thing will be the Royal Highland Show – so come along and see us on the Thursday and Friday, some of my research colleagues from Kirkton & Auchtertyre will be there.

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