Farming Fo­cus

Ewen Camp­bell, SRUC Kirk­ton & Auchter­tyre farms man­ager

The Oban Times - - Property / farming -

THE SHORT days and long nights are a sign that tup­ping time is fast ap­proach­ing - when we mate the ewes with the rams.

This year will be a bit dif­fer­ent from the past four years, since we are chang­ing the sheep man­age­ment sys­tems we have been test­ing on our Kirk­ton flock. For the past four years, we have had a live­stock project funded by the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment, look­ing at three dif­fer­ent sheep geno­types (Scot­tish Black­face se­lec­tion line with high es­ti­mated breed­ing val­ues (EBVs); Scot­tish Black­face con­trol line with av­er­age EBVs; and the Welsh Lleyn breed). In the project, the groups will be man­aged in two dif­fer­ent sys­tems - one con­ven­tional, us­ing tra­di­tional ap­proach to sheep man­age­ment; the other making more use of au­to­mated sys­tems link­ing to the elec­tronic iden­ti­fi­ca­tion (EID) tags on the sheep.

In this next phase, and based on the find­ings from this four year study, the sheep sys­tems will be changed to put a fo­cus on in­ves­ti­gat­ing two con­trast­ing sys­tems.

Th­ese two sys­tems, hill graz­ing vs park graz­ing, will be dif­fer­ent in terms of their graz­ing re­source use, each making more or less use of in bye, semi-im­proved and hill graz­ings, as well as more or less use of home- grown or bought-in feeds. To ac­com­mo­date the graz­ing re­sources of this new sys­tems study, our Kirk­ton flock will be split into two groups, each con­tain­ing the three ex­ist­ing geno­types from the orig­i­nal flock (Scot­tish Black­face se­lec­tion, Scot­tish Black­face con­trol and Lleyn). Both sys­tems will in­cor­po­rate the best prac­tice pre­ci­sion live­stock farming ap­proaches that we have in­ves­ti­gated and eval­u­ated in the pre­vi­ous re­search project and high­lighted in pre­vi­ous ar­ti­cles.

Sort­ing the ewes into dif­fer­ent mat­ing groups, and mea­sur­ing and mon­i­tor­ing the grass height in our pas­tures are just two of the jobs tak­ing place at present.

To mea­sure the grass height, we used the Qual­ity Meat Scot­land sward stick ap­proach. It con­sists of a sim­ple card sys­tem which is in two parts, both small enough to fit into my back pocket. Our aim is to en­sure that the grass is at its op­ti­mum graz­ing length for sheep (4cm to 8cm). There is also a scale with in­for­ma­tion on how the kilo­grams of dry mat­ter per hectare of grass vary with sward height. How­ever, un­less the weather stays un­usu­ally mild, it is un­likely that there will be much grass to mea­sure with all the hun­gry mouths that are cur­rently eat­ing it.

Chang­ing the Kirk­ton sys­tems has al­lowed us to move some of our spare young Black­face ewes on to an area of Auchter­tyre known as the Cor­rie. This piece of land has not been grazed for nearly 10 years and we are keen to rein­tro­duce graz­ing as part of our over­all in­crease in graz­ing man­age­ment across the farms as a whole. In re­stock­ing this area, which can be steep in places with lots of rough veg­e­ta­tion, we are go­ing to use some ad­di­tional breeds of tups to in­stil even more har­di­ness into the lambs. So in ad­di­tion to our Black­face rams we are also go­ing to use a Swaledale and two Black Welsh Moun­tain rams. The lat­ter breed has per­formed very well on an up­land farm on a for­mer open­cast min­ing site in Ayr­shire and I’m keen to see how the cross lambs do up here in the High­lands.

We also had more visi­tors on the farm. On Sun­day Novem­ber 15, we hosted a visit by some Scot­tish As­so­ci­a­tion of Young Farm­ers Clubs (SAYFC) mem­bers on their way home af­ter their an­nual week­end meet­ing in Oban. They were young farm­ers from the east re­gion who, de­spite the wet weather, en­joyed hear­ing about the re­search we are do­ing here. Col­leagues were on­hands to demon­strate how our lat­est sheep han­dling sys­tem is work­ing.

All in all, an­other busy month for us.

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