Spring pro­duces boun­ti­ful crop of lambs and calves

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

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.

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