Autumn efforts to improve grassland management include fortnightly sward height measurement and sheep movement
AUTUMN is now in full swing, with the leaves turning and the vibrant colours adorning the hillside above the farm steading.
This has also been the recent temporary home for a huge flock of fieldfares that have now stripped many of the rowan trees of their berries.
We’ve had a great spell of weather in October and the grass is still very lush.
We have been busy moving the sheep around to make sure we use the grass as best we can.
To help us improve our grassland management, we have been measuring the sward height of our fields every two weeks using a QMS measuring stick.
When the sward height drops below a certain level, we move the sheep to another field where there is still plenty of grass available.
This has been quite a lot of work but it should be worthwhile, especially as we want to make sure there is still plenty of grass available come tupping time, in a couple of weeks.
Speaking of grass and fodder, we managed to make 400 bales of silage for the cows this year, compared to only around 100 last year. Although there is plenty of bulk, the quality is not great, because of the wet weather back in the summer.
The silage is a bit soggy, and the analysis showed a low dry matter content. The cows will still benefit from eating it this winter, but it won’t be as good as we had hoped.
All of these grassland issues were discussed at our Farmers’ Grassland Group meeting earlier in the month.
Our usual group of farmers came to Kirkton and Auchtertyre to discuss grassland management, silage quality, bracken control and soil nutrients, as well as our plans for next year.
We had some stimulating discussions, and we’ll meet again in March.
On the sheep front, in the past couple of months all the ewes have been brought in for stock draw, which allows us to pull off the poorer animals to sell (those with bad mouths or udders) and to ensure that those we keep are healthy and fit for breeding.
We have also sent this year’s female lambs (hoggs) for ‘wintering’ to farms with better grass. They were sent to two different farms, one near Airdrie and the other near Buckie.
They will come home next April and remain on the hill, before be- ing mated next autumn. We have also sent our first batch of lambs to slaughter in Bridge of Allan.
A total of 55 lambs were sent and their confirmation scores were very good, although some were a bit heavy.
As with last month, we also had a flurry of visitors to the farms. We’ve had a group of 10 Chinese academics from Hainan Univer- sity, accompanied by a lecturer from the University of the West of Scotland.
Their interests covered agriculture, farm/agriculture diversification, remote and rural enterprise initiatives and aquaculture.
It was a very stimulating visit and they were impressed by our facilities, especially the animal handling set-up.
A week later, more visitors came, this time from a bit closer to home.
Six researchers from Teagasc (the Irish Agriculture and Food Development Authority) based in Galway and Cork came to us on a fact-finding mission.
They were all sheep specialists, working with farmers on their network programme. They were very keen to see the parallels between our Scottish situation and the Irish one.
They already have some technology on their research farms, but were very interested in our research on EID, labour savings and our genetic results for the blackface.
Once again, quite a lot to report for this month.
Irish sheep specialists during their visit to the SRUC on a fact-finding mission.