Lamb­ing and grass­land to the fore at re­search farms

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

WE ARE in the mid­dle of lamb­ing here at Kirk­ton and Auchter­tyre, as I’m sure are most of the farms in the West High­lands.

While the weather at the start was change­able, this past week has been glo­ri­ous. Lamb­ing is never easy but the good win­ter and early spring have cre­ated con­di­tions which are about as good as it gets. We have plenty of grass for the time of year and the ewes are in good con­di­tion. This means they have plenty of milk for their lambs and are very moth­erly.

In our Kirk­ton re­search flock, three- quar­ters of the ewes lambed in the first 16 days. The good weather and con­di­tion of the ewes at mat­ing time is re­ally show­ing up now with good healthy look­ing lambs which seem a lit­tle heav­ier than nor­mal. The high hill flock (Auchter­tyre), which started lamb­ing a week be­hind Kirk­ton, has also gone well. In our Kirk­ton flock, we still put our ewes car­ry­ing twins in­doors at night, to give them ex­tra shel­ter and su­per­vi­sion, whilst the sin­gle-bear­ing ewes are lamb­ing on our rough parks.

The dry spell has also al­lowed us to get on with some grass­land work. Ma­nure and fer­tiliser have been spread on the flat fields and we have har­rowed some of the older grass to re­move the dead veg­e­ta­tion and let the air into the roots of the grow­ing plants. If all goes to plan, the ground should be dry enough to start plough­ing a field for re-seed­ing next week.

Ping Zhou, the PhD stu­dent who has been us­ing our Kirk­ton sheep data for the past two years, is now col­lect­ing her fi­nal year’s worth of data.

She is still look­ing at colostrum qual­ity of the twins-bear­ing ewes, as well as car­ry­ing out post-mortems on any lamb that died within a week of birth. By the end of this lamb­ing sea­son, she will have enough in­for­ma­tion to start writ­ing up her the­sis.

The farm staff and the tech­ni­cians here are be­ing rushed off their feet with lamb­ing, but my re­search col­leagues have also been busy. De­spite all the po­lit­i­cal shenani­gans go­ing on in the back­ground, re­searchers across Europe are still keen to work closely with us. To this end, we have been suc­cess­ful in two new EU projects, both funded un­der the Euro­pean Re­search Area Net­work (ERA-NET) frame­work, with our funding be­ing un­der­pinned by De­fra.

The first project, SusSheP, is be­ing led by the Univer­sity of Lim­er­ick in Ire­land, with Ir­ish part­ners from Tea­gasc and Sheep Ire­land, French part­ners from INRA (Na­tional In­sti­tute for Agron­omy Re­search), Nor­we­gian part­ners from the Nor­we­gian As­so­ci­a­tion of Sheep and Goat Breed­ers and from the Nor­we­gian Univer­sity of Life Sci­ence, as well as the UK Ma­ter­nal Sheep Group and Claire Morgan-Davies and Nicola Lambe here at SRUC Kirk­ton.

The aim of the project is to look at in­creas­ing the sus­tain­abil­ity and prof­itabil­ity of Euro­pean sheep pro­duc­tion. There are three main strands to this three-year project. The first one is to look at ewe longevity and how to record such traits on farm.

We will use ex­ist­ing data and that’s where we at Kirk­ton are well-placed, since we have been flock record­ing for a while.

The sec­ond one re­lates to labour and car­bon hoof­print. We will record labour and car­bon ef­fi­ciency on farms in the UK, Ire­land, France and Nor­way, and again, this will link well with some of the ex­ist­ing re­search we are al­ready con­duct­ing here.

All these days with me traips­ing with a GoPro around my neck a cou­ple of years back have not been in vain! The fi­nal strand is to do with AI and cer­vi­cal sperm trans­port, es­pe­cially in sheep dairy breeds.

Although we do not use AI ex­ten­sively here in this coun­try, it will be in­ter­est­ing to un­der­stand is­sues of up­take and fer­til­ity.

The first meet­ing re­lat­ing to this project was held in Lim­er­ick at the end of April and it was an­other good oc­ca­sion to net­work and com­pare sheep farm­ing sys­tems across Europe.

The sec­ond three-year project, called An­i­mal Fu­ture, is be­ing led by the French INRA with part­ners from Aus­tria, Ger­many, the Nether­lands, Por­tu­gal and Spain, as well as Davy McCracken and the team here at Kirk­ton and SRUC economists in Ed­in­burgh.

The main fo­cus of this project is to de­sign strate­gies for as­sess­ing and en­hanc­ing the sus­tain­abil­ity of an­i­mal pro­duc­tion sys­tems.

We will be con­duct­ing case stud­ies of hill sheep sys­tems here in Scot­land to iden­tify op­por­tu­ni­ties to im­prove sus­tain­abil­ity and ways to ad­dress any con­straints to do­ing that.

So here at Kirk­ton and Auchter­tyre we are go­ing to stay closely con­nected to Europe for some time to come. And with the Auld Al­liance in par­tic­u­lar con­tin­u­ing to be very strong it looks like I’ll have to brush up on my French. Au revoir for now.

Lamb­ing fields at Kirk­ton.

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