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!