Oban Times – December 2016
Ewen Campbell, SRUC’s Kirkton & Auchtertyre research farms manager
Well, that’s it, another year has passed and the end of year festivities are upon us. It looks like the tups have been working well since they were put in with the ewes. Each tup wears a harness with a coloured crayon which marks the ewes that he has mated. We change the colour of crayon after about 12 days. This gives an idea of which ewes might lamb first and also shows if the tup is working. After 20 days we replace the tups with chasers (a ram of a different breed) and change the colour again. This means that less fertile ewes which do not conceive on the first cycle will have cross lambs and the cross ewe lambs will not be kept for breeding. Over time this should improve the fertility of the whole flock.
The recent spell of mild weather has meant that the cows are still being fed out on the hill and we will be in no hurry to bring them in as the price of straw is higher this year.
On the research side, a new project has just started that involves Claire Morgan-Davies, one of my colleagues here. Kirkton & Auchtertyre farms are going to be focus farm for this project which is a European network on sheep productivity. SheepNet, which stands for Sharing Expertise and Experience towards sheep Productivity through NETworking, is an EU funded project led by Idele, the French Livestock Institute. The project is operated under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Programme for Research and Innovation (project H2020 RUR-10-2016-2017). The project will run until October 2019. There are 7 European partners in total, representing the six main sheep producing EU countries (Spain, United Kingdom, Romania, Italy, France, Ireland), and Turkey.
SheepNet is really about any innovation being driven by farmers, to improve sheep productivity (especially in terms of the number of lambs reared per ewe). The network will establish durable exchange of scientific and practical knowledge among researchers, farmers and advisors across Europe. In practice, this means that the network will promote the implementation and dissemination of any innovative technologies and best practices for the improvement of sheep productivity. This will be through a series of workshops and discussion groups within and between the partners’ countries, as well as publications and events. And, as I said, our research farms here will be one of the innovative focus farms for this project, since we are using the latest electronic identification technologies for our sheep management. We will also host one of the international workshops here next year in June. It should be an excellent occasion to showcase Scotland’s sheep farming, especially hill farming practices. Do not hesitate to contact us if you wish to take part or be informed.
On a less international, but still highly relevant note, we just hosted a visit by members of the Argyll and Lochaber New Entrants To Farming Group. They came to see the latest technologies and management practices that we are using here. My colleague Harriet Wishart and I talked to them about condition scoring and foot trimming and demonstrated how we use our EID weigh crate and autodrafter, as well as the conveyor to reduce labour and improve animal welfare and efficiency. It was very encouraging to see so many young folk making the effort to come along and I hope they found the evening useful.
This led us to the end of a rather busy year. On behalf of my colleagues here on the farms and myself, we wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!