Spring produces bountiful crop of lambs and calves
WE HAVE just come to the end of one of the best lambings I can remember. The weather was good, there was plenty of grass and the ewes were in good condition.
The Kirkton blackface and Lleyn flocks are both around 10 per cent up on last year and the lambs are thriving on the lush grass available at the moment.
Our high hill flock at Auchtertyre has also finished lambing and has certainly profited from the favourable spring. This year, we are trying to get to the bottom of our ‘Blackloss’ problem by tagging all the lambs born in the hill parks before they were put to the hill.
This means come marking time we will know which lambs are missing and who their mothers are. We can then use this information to look for trends or similarities in the ewes which may shed light on why they are missing.
At the moment, we have tagged 406 lambs. Any dead lambs found on the hill were also subject to post-mortem examinations to find the likely cause of death.
The cows have also finished calving and for them it has been a successful year. We got 27 calves out of our 27 cows. I am very pleased with the calves by the shorthorn bull and it will be interesting to see if they grow as well as the Angus cross calves. The cows and calves are now out on the hill for the summer, where the calves re- ceive no supplementary feeding.
For the past three years we have weighed the cows and calves at weaning time to see how well the cows are working. The aim is for each cow to wean a calf that is 50 per cent of her bodyweight, quite a challenge on hard hill land. I’m delighted one cow has managed this and a further eight have averaged 45 per cent or above.
This is no mean feat when farmers on much better land are aiming at 40 per cent. Over the three years, our top cow had an average weight of 491kg and her calves averaged 246kg at an average 178 days from birth.
The good weather has meant the grass growth is between three weeks and a month ahead of last year. As a result, I have shut five fields off for silage and sprayed one with glyphosate in preparation for ploughing.
We also plan to use a contactor with a big square baler to make our silage this year as it is cheaper and we have found the square bales just as good to work with as round ones.
We have also been busy at the Highland sheep exhibition near Strathpeffer and at NorthSheep near Durham. It was nice to see some familiar faces while we were there, so thanks for stopping and chatting with my colleagues on the SRUC stand.
This year, we focused our stand display on our new EU collaborative projects which look at ewe longevity, on-farm labour, lamb mortality and hill sheep systems efficiency. Our plastic display sheep was certainly efficient and non-labour demanding.
We had long chats regarding ewe culling strategy and our questionnaire on that topic went down well with the farming public - possibly because we offered sweets to anyone filling it in.
We also had plenty of visitors to Kirkton and Auchtertyre. We have just hosted a field visit for the regional NFUS boards from Argyll and the Islands and Forth and Clyde. Around 35 board members came to see us and were shown the research we are doing to encourage farmers to use technology and be more efficient.
They were shown our handling facilities and we discussed our research on how to use electronic identification to improve efficiency and labour on farms, as well as our research on different genetic lines and breeds. They also heard about our grassland management and how we will be using drones to detect weeds in our grass fields.
They finished their tour with the cows and calves and we touched on our efforts to tackle Blackloss. It was a lovely afternoon - the sunny weather helped - and it was great to see so many people interested in what we are doing. We hope they enjoyed the visit as much as we did.
Finally, we welcomed another international group. My colleagues are part of an EU project called SheepNet, which I have already told you about in an earlier article. The consortium partners came to Kirkton to see what research and sheep handling facilities we have, ahead of a bigger international workshop held later in the week at SRUC’s main office buildings in Edinburgh.
We had representatives from France, Romania, Turkey, Spain, Italy and Ireland. They were impressed by the scale of our farm, both in terms of size and number of animals, which are different from some of their own situations.
This was especially the case for the French and Italians, who tend to have smaller dairy sheep flocks.
Our next outing will be to the Royal Highland Show from Thursday June 22 to Sunday June 25. Come along and see us on the Thursday and Friday, as some of my research colleagues from Kirkton and Auchtertyre will be there.
SRUC’s super ewe at nine years old has had a seventh set of twins.