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Oban Times farming column – October 2017

 

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

 

Now that the dark evenings are upon us, I am glad that we have managed to get some straw stored and that we managed to make a reasonable amount of decent silage. In spite of the wet summer we have been very lucky that this years crop was much better than last year with almost twice the dry matter value and good pH, protein and sugar levels. Just as well since it looks like good quality hay will be pretty expensive, if you can find it!

 

The cows have just been scanned and all 24 are in calf, with the calving pattern looking pretty tight. It’s very satisfying to see them working so hard for us, however I think we need to give a wee bit of credit to the boluses we gave to them pre calving. We had very little work from them at calving time and now to see all cows in calf, in spite of calving some of them at two years old, proves that they are on the right track. We have decided that now is the right time to increase the cattle numbers and to try a different breed but I will keep you in suspense until the next article to tell you what we have purchased!

 

As for the ewes, well, there is still plenty of grass around and we have just finished giving them their autumn MOT and service. We jag them with Cydectin to kill worms and external parasites and dose them with Fasinex to kill fluke. As usual with our Kirkton research flock, our Lleyn and Scottish Blackface ewes will be tupped in single sire mating groups. It is a bit of a musical chair exercise, trying to fit all these ewes in different fields. This year, we will have 14 different groups. It will be a bit easier for the high hill Auchtertyre and Corrie flocks. They will be split into 5 groups with a mixture of Blackface, Swale and Black Welsh Mountain tups; we will work out later on who the daddy is with the Zoetis parentage test!

The lamb sales are also in full swing at the moment. The finishing lambs are all in the shed. And so far we have put 150 to Scotbeef and at the moment prices are not too bad.

 

We also hosted at Kirkton & Auchtertyre a farmers’ workshop on innovation and providing solutions for improved sheep production. This was part of a European project called SheepNet, which we are part of. The project (www.sheepnet.network) aims to bring together farmers, scientists and advisors from seven countries to target improved efficiency in lamb production. The workshop at the farms was a great opportunity to discuss with peers and feed into this big project for research and knowledge transfer. Around 20 farmers from the Borders and North of England, led by Poppy Frater (SAC Consulting) came to the farms in the morning. We showed them the latest technology and practices that are used here, such as drones to assess pasture condition, handling facilities to support sheep management practices such as target selective wormer treatment, and grazing and grass management in the hills. The discussions were plentiful and very stimulating. The farmers were really pleased to have seen what we are up to here, in this harsher environment. In the afternoon, I joined them for the indoor part of the workshop, held at the Crianlarich hotel. Led by my colleague Claire Morgan-Davies, we all discussed solutions to issues linked to ewe reproduction, gestation and lambing mortality. We had to identify 8 solutions easily transferable to other farmers. These solutions will then be presented at the next international workshop of this project, which will be held in Romania in November. I am part of the trip, and I am really looking forward to meeting other EU farmers and to compare notes. More on that when I come back!

 

The pupils from nearby Crianlarich Primary School also came for a visit this week. The children had been studying ‘weather’ and ‘natural disasters’ so they were particularly interested to learn from my colleague John Holland about the Met Office weather station at Kirkton and all about the local and global weather. I then showed them the cows and lambs in the shed before giving them a sheepdog demonstration. They were undoubtedly the most enthusiastic visitors we have had for a long time with lots of pertinent questions. It was great to hear how knowledgeable these youngsters were about both the weather and hill farming.

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