£472 - cost of keeping a cow

This is the average cost of keeping a cow for one year on the focus farms over the last three years. This only includes the variable costs associated with keeping a cow.

This figure was much higher than what a lot of the farmers estimated it to be prior to benchmarking and shows the importance of crunching the numbers on your farm to establish the costs of your own business.

At current market value, this requires every cow on the farm to wean a 210kg calf just to cover the associated variable cost of keeping the cow.

410 - days of silage

Most of the country has yielded bumper crops of silage this year. All the focus farms look to be sitting on at least some surplus silage in the yard this winter.

None more so than the Mackays at Greenvale, Caithness. Mark and Shona managed to secure 410 days of winter feed for their current stock levels of 175 suckler cows and offspring.

Focusing on soil health and fertililty as well as rotational grazing has allowed the focus farms to carry more stock/acre.

Typical feeding days on the farm would be somewhere around the 180- to 200-day mark. If this is the case this winter, then the family have enough silage in the yard to last them until spring 2021.

9% - increase in cow numbers

At a national level, the Scottish suckler herd has decreased by 9% over the past decade. However, on the focus farms, the number of breeding females in the project across the six farms has increased by 9% since 2016.

Breeding cow numbers have increaed by 9% across the farms since the start of the project.

This is because the technical efficiency of the farms has improved and they are now able to carry more stock per acre of grass than ever before.

Key to this being possible is their focus on productive cows, as well as maximising the proportion of grazed grass in the diet across all farm systems.

The farms are now growing and utilising more grass due to investing in soil health and fertility and rotational grazing systems.

95.6% - cows scanned in-calf

The scanning results across the focus farms make for pleasant reading in 2019. The average in-calf rate was 95.6%. This varied from a low of 89% to a high of 97%.

Scanning results were very good for spring calving herds with an average in-calf rate of 95.6%.

It seems to have been a very good year for getting maiden heifers in calf, with with three farms reporting 100% in-calf rates for heifers and the lowest reporting 94% in-calf.

128 - acres of forage crop

Over 128 acres of forage crops were planted across the focus farms for grazing this winter. Not all of the farms have land suitable to do so, but, where possible, outwintering is offering a cheaper wintering cost for both cows and sheep compared with housed stock.

These crops include fodder beet, kale, stubble turnips, swedes and hybrid brassicas. The type of crop depends on the farm location, the stock that are planned to graze it and the time of winter it is required for.

Outwintering is reducing cow wintering costs by about £1/day compared with a silage and straw diet fed indoors in a straw-bedded shed.

43 - FPP meetings and events

This included farm walks, open days and meetings, as well as many discussion group meetings for the eight groups associated with the programme.

Also, we live-streamed a mart event at Thainstone in February, looking at tips for the calving season and best practice when calving a cow, with local vet Andrew Smith.

A further mart event was held in Caithness Livestock Centre in November, with guest speaker Stuart Ashworth from QMS for a market outlook for Scotland for the coming months.

We will be back on the road in early 2020 and hope to see many more people at events throughout the year.

6 - Focus Farms

These are the farmers that put their business in the public light for all to see. The programme shares their experiences and the changes they have made over the past three years. We report both the good and the bad, what has worked and what has not.

The programme advisers and management team would like to thank the farmers for their continued support and engagement with the programme.