Farm­ing Fo­cus

The Oban Times - - Farming 23 -

De­spite talk of heat­waves south of the bor­der and in Europe, I can­not say that July has been the warmest for us!

The grass, how­ever, is now grow­ing well and there is plenty for the sheep and cat­tle to eat. We fin­ished weigh­ing and mark­ing the lambs at the be­gin­ning of the month. Be­tween our two main flocks (900 ewes at Kirk­ton and 350 at Auchter­tyre), this job took the best part of two weeks. Now, the ma­jor­ity of the sheep are back on the hill and hill parks, for sum­mer graz­ing.

We will gather the sheep again at the end of this month, for shear­ing. We started shear­ing some of the younger fe­males ( hoggs) ear­lier this month, which co­in­cided with a shear­ing course that we hosted at Auchter­tyre.

The Bri­tish Wool Mar­ket­ing Board holds cour­ses through­out the UK, one of which is held at our farm ev­ery year, train­ing shear­ers of all lev­els of ex­pe­ri­ence how to cor­rectly shear sheep. This year 10 peo­ple at­tended over the two days and were in­structed by Eoin Camp­bell and Andy Rankin.

By the end of the course, the shear­ers had learnt how to cor­rectly han­dle the an­i­mals and how to shear with­out dam­ag­ing the an­i­mal or the fleece.

The course was well-re­cieved and the par­tic­i­pants were pleased with the ex­pe­ri­ence they gained.

The cows, which had been put back to the hill at the end of June, are now well es­tab­lished on their hill graz­ing, and have gone quite high up in Auchter­tyre Glen. We are pleased, as this means that the an­i­mals are get­ting used to their ground and will be us­ing the hill more ef­fec­tively.

We have two stu­dents in res­i­dence at SRUC’s Kirk­ton & Auchter­tyre farms for the sum­mer. Ailsa Thompson, from SRUC Aberdeen, is do­ing a 12 week place­ment with us, as part of her BSc( Hons) Agri­cul­ture.

Thibaut Salanon, from France, is also do­ing a 12 week place­ment, as part of his de­gree in Agri­cul­ture in Toulouse, in the south west of France. Both have been re­ally busy this month, help­ing on the farm and with var­i­ous re­search projects.

One of their main tasks has been tak­ing an­i­mal ob­ser­va­tions on the hill. They have been look­ing at 60 ewes and their lambs on a large fenced area of the Auchter­tyre hill (the Meall), check­ing ev­ery hour through­out the day where they are, and what they are do­ing. This is work for one of our PhD stu­dents, Ping Zhou, who is look­ing at the dif­fer­ences be­tween re­pro­duc­tive per­for­mance of the Lleyn ewes and the im­proved and unim­proved Scot­tish Black­face ewes. To be able to dif­fer­en­ti­ate the an­i­mals at a dis­tance, we have sprayed the ewes dif­fer­ent colours, a bit like when farm­ers pre­pare sheep for agri­cul­tural shows. They present a fine pic­ture on the hill!

The ob­ser­va­tions will only last one month, un­til we shear the ewes. Hope­fully, this should pro­vide us with more in­sight in to where and how the dif­fer­ent groups of an­i­mals graze. This is also use­ful in our un­der­stand­ing of the oc­cur­rence of Plochteach, since the hill that they are ob­serv­ing the sheep on is rich in Bog Aspho­del, a plant linked with this pho­to­sen­si­ti­sa­tion dis­ease.

As well as hav­ing the two stu­dents in res­i­dence, we had a group of 40 French stu­dents vis­it­ing for a day ear­lier in the month. They came to hear about the agri­cul­tural and en­vi­ron­men­tal chal­lenges fac­ing Scot­tish hill farm­ers.

They were a mix of agri­cul­ture and en­vi­ron­men­tal stu­dents from CFTA Co­quereau­mont, a train­ing cen­tre near Rouen, in Nor­mandy, which spe­cialises in train­ing ap­pren­tices and adults for ca­reers re­lated to the en­vi­ron­ment, agri­cul­ture and trade.

The stu­dents were in Scot­land on a whis­tle- stop tour of a num­ber of Scot­tish farms to help in­crease their un­der­stand­ing of land man­age­ment is­sues out­side of France. The stu­dents and their lec­tur­ers ap­peared pleas­antly sur­prised that we are look­ing at such a wide range of en­vi­ron­men­tal and agri­cul­tural is­sues on the farms, many of which are also rel­e­vant in the ar­eas that they farm.

So, as this month draws to a close and sum­mer marches on, our shear­ers are hop­ing for the rain and driz­zle to stop for a while, so that they can shear all the re­main­ing ewes with­out too much bother. Hope­fully, the end of the month will bring some longer spells of sun­shine to keep the lo­cals and the tourists happy!

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