Col­lege firmly es­tab­lishes a new French con­nec­tion

The Oban Times - - Farming - By Ewen Camp­bell, SRUC’s Kirk­ton and Auchter­tyre re­search farms man­ager

THE cows have all fin­ished calv­ing now, with only the heifers left to calf over the com­ing few weeks.

We have had 22 calves so far from 22 cows, which all man­aged to calf with­out any help. The cows and heifers all went to a shorthorn bull and the calves are very ro­bust-look­ing with a good coat on them.

The ‘cow- cam’ has helped our man­age­ment tremen­dously, al­low­ing us to be more ef­fi­cient and save labour but, just as im­por­tantly, en­sur­ing we could keep a watch­ful eye on the cows in case any­thing was go­ing amiss. Thank­fully, noth­ing did this year, but it was a com­fort know­ing we had the abil­ity to check the cows re­motely all times of the day or night.

But now it is time to turn our at­ten­tion to the sheep, and lamb­ing prepa­ra­tions are now in full swing. At scan­ning time, the ewes were car­ry­ing 797 lambs in our Kirk­ton re­search flock and 526 lambs in our high hill flocks in Auchter­tyre and the Cor­rie. As al­ways, the chal­lenge is to keep as many of these lambs alive as pos­si­ble -not an easy task.

Lamb­ing is sched­uled to start on April 20 for the Kirk­ton flock and the week later for the Auchter­tyre and Cor­rie sheep, so we are go­ing to be very busy in the com­ing weeks.

Just as well we have some ad­di­tional help. A French stu­dent, Agathe Malzac, has ar­rived from sunny Bordeaux in the south-west of France, to spend five months with us. Agathe is a stu­dent at AgroParisTech, a univer­sity which trains stu­dents to Master of Sci­ence level in agri­cul­ture and agron­omy.

Agathe has al­ready worked on a num­ber of dif­fer­ent farms in France, in­clud­ing sheep farms in the South­ern Alps, and is keen now to un­der­stand and ex­pe­ri­ence the Scot­tish hill sheep sys­tem.

Agathe will help us at lamb­ing time to tag and record the lambs be­ing born in the Auchter­tyre and the Cor­rie flocks, to see if we can shed some light on our lamb mor­tal­ity rates and the Black­loss is­sue we are fac­ing there.

It will be labour de­mand­ing but, hope­fully, we will get vi­tal in­for­ma­tion as to how many lambs are ac­tu­ally be­ing born. We will then be able to com­pare these num­bers with what we got at scan­ning, and with what we will find later on in the year at mark­ing and wean­ing.

Once lamb­ing is fin­ished, I am sure we will find more tasks for Agathe to do, as we are never short of ac­tiv­i­ties here.

This has been a very French month for us. As well as Agathe ar­riv­ing, we also hosted a visit for a group of 20 French farm­ers from the south-west of the coun­try (near Car­cas­sonne and Toulouse).

This visit has been or­gan­ised via our EU-funded project Sheep­Net, in which my col­league Claire Mor­gan-Davies, from SRUC’s Hill and Moun­tain Re­search Cen­tre, is in­volved.

This group of French farm­ers, which calls it­self Ro­bustagno (ro­bust lamb), is an EU op­er­a­tional group, which aims to dis­cuss and tackle spe­cific prob­lems about lamb mor­tal­ity. It is be­ing co­or­di­nated by the French Live­stock In­sti­tute.

The group was com­posed of farm­ers, but also ad­vis­ers and train­ers, co- op­er­a­tive rep­re­sen­ta­tives and vets. They spent one (very wet) evening at Kirk­ton and Auchter­tyre, where we showed them our han­dling fa­cil­i­ties and where we dis­cussed the is­sues fac­ing hill farm­ers. We had a very long dis­cus­sion about wean­ing rates and Black­loss, as well as our sheep sys­tems in gen­eral.

They were very im­pressed by the scale of our hill farms in Scot­land, and sur­prised at our av­er­age 2.5 me­tres of an­nual rain­fall.

In south-west France, their is­sues are more to do with the very high and low tem­per­a­tures, espe­cially in the sheds where their an­i­mals spend the win­ter and where they lamb be­fore be­ing turned out onto pas­ture in the spring. They also of­ten have three lamb­ings over two years.

Claire Mor­gan-Davies, and Poppy Frater, SAC con­sult­ing’s sheep spe­cial­ist, then took the group to visit three more sheep farms – one at Arn­prior 12 miles west of Stir­ling, one near Galashiels and the fi­nal one near La­nark. Al­though these farms are not as ex­treme as ours here, it was still in­ter­est­ing for them to com­pare and con­trast with their sit­u­a­tion.

They also vis­ited Castlelaw, the SRUC up­land farm just south of Ed­in­burgh, and the SRUC CT scan­ning unit. They were full of ques­tions about Scot­tish sheep farm­ing in gen­eral, and the way we man­age lamb­ing in par­tic­u­lar.

It was a very busy but en­rich­ing three days. They might be able to re­cip­ro­cate such a visit, and I prob­a­bly would not mind spend­ing three days in the south of France my­self.

The French farm­ers tour­ing Scot­land were struck by the amount of rain­fall.

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