Farm Profit Programme: good things come to those who wait
In the final week of benchmark results from the focus farms, we see how the Websters at Ardhuncart and the Gammies at Drumforber have got on in the first year of the project.

Webster Family, Ardhuncart Farm

Year one is complete and we are swinging in to year two with a few changes starting to take effect.

There is always a pinch point in early spring when grass is quite scarce. We are trying to have ewes and lambs out at pasture and start to get cows and calves out as well. To try to preserve more grass this winter, we established a crop of swedes on just 1ha of ground to see how it would work for getting the ewes off the grass for a few weeks. It was done as a bargain basement job, by mixing the seed with a bag of 10:18:28 in the hopper of the one pass and then cultivating directly in to the stubble. The crop took well and while it didn’t yield as high as a full crop of swedes, it kept the sheep long enough to give the grass a bit of a break.

Last year lambing was a real struggle with a lot of prolapses. There is a suggestion that ewe prolapses are driven by a lack of magnesium in the diet. The fields that the ewes were grazing on pre-lambing last year were some of the higher-K index fields on the farm. Using the same logic as grass staggers, that high K compromises magnesium uptake, this year we have grazed the ewes on fields with a lower K index.

So far it looks to have reduced prolapse incidence. Whether this is from the reduced K or as a result of bringing in more Cheviot mules this year and culling any problem ewes, we don’t know.

Benchmark

2017 was a poor year for us, we lost five cows for various reasons, and also we didn’t sell as many heifers with calves at foot as planned therefore sales were reduced. However, these heifers have been retained and will boost the output of our own herd in the coming year.

The sheep have improved, due mainly to the reduced amount of hard feed purchased by feeding to litter size and improved sale prices last year.

Aim for this year

This year, the sheep are going to go on a rotation on a new ley at the eastern edge of the farm. It is quite a steep field and initially, we have it split in four, with gates at either end of each fence to make moving stock easy. We plan to make more, better quality silage and remove any unproductive animals from the system. With the extra heifers coming into our herd we can afford to cull that bit harder this year.

The Gammie Family Drumforber Farm

One year in, there have been many changes on the farm. Making top-quality silage for growing stock was one. 2017 silage has 33% more energy than 2016, meaning we have fed next to no concentrates to the heifer calves that will be returning to grass this year. This was achieved by bringing forward the cutting date to the end of May.

The high-quality silage also meant that we have used ammonia-treated straw for the dry cows. This has worked well for us, utilising some of the condition the cows had built up over the grazing season. We then swapped them onto a diet with straw, silage and draff six weeks or so pre-calving to build up milk and colostrum quality.

Getting cattle out to grass earlier really helped reduce the winter feed bill last year with young stock getting out towards the end of March and cows and calves from mid-April onwards.

We looked at the bedding situation very early in the season and decided to do something about it. We have tray driers that run on wood chip and we dried some more chip down and bedded the cattle with it. This has worked really well, with the cattle remaining clean and dry over winter on one mucking out.

Cost wise, it has come in a good bit cheaper than using straw for bedding but we have yet to see how it behaves when we spread it on the ground. We are using wood chip for all the youngstock and cows with calves at foot. The dry cows were on wood chip but now as they approach calving we have moved them on to straw.

Benchmark

As any newly established business will know, it can take time for the initial investment to pay off. This is something we expected and are prepared to work at over the coming years.

We can be assured that by putting a robust system in place from day one, it will pay off in the long run. Gross margin per cow was £264 for last year. We expect to see this increase significantly throughout the lifetime of the project.

Aim for this year

After the success of last year’s early turnout, we are hoping to be able to do the same again. At the minute, ground conditions don’t look like we will be as early as last year but we are holding out hope that things will dry up soon.

There actually is plenty of grass about as it kept growing into October but unfortunately ground was too wet to get out and graze it. It would be nice to get a quick grazing across all the ground as soon as possible to encourage new growth once temperatures rise.

Cow numbers will continue to expand as we try to get to what we feel comfortable with. I have also recently done an AI course so I will see how that goes on some of the cows and heifers this coming year.

Scotland loses BSE negligible risk status after case confirmed on-farm
A case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) has been confirmed on a farm in Aberdeenshire, in the northeast of Scotland.

A classical case of BSE was identified on farm as part of routine surveillance in the northeast of Scotland, the Scottish government has confirmed. The Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) is investigating the source of the outbreak.

The disease was found in a pedigree animal that was not imported to Scotland. As a result, Scotland will lose it's BSE negligible risk status which it gained from the Word Health Organisation (OIE) just last year.

Investigations

The animal in question did not enter the human food chain. All animals over four years of age that die on-farm are routinely tested for BSE.

The animal's cohorts, including offspring, have been traced and isolated, and will be destroyed in line with EU requirements.

Movement restrictions have been put in place at the farm, while further investigations to identify the origin of the disease occur.

“While it is too early to tell where the disease came from in this case, its detection is proof that our surveillance system is doing its job. We are working closely with the Animal and Plant Health Agency to answer this question and, in the meantime, I would urge any farmer who has concerns to immediately seek veterinary advice,” chief veterinary officer Sheila Voas said.

BSE-free for a decade

Scotland has been BSE-free since 2009. In May 2017, the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) recognised the official BSE risk status of Scotland (and Northern Ireland) as negligible risk, the lowest risk level. This follows on from the Scottish government’s application to the OIE in 2016.

A spokesperson for the Scottish government confirmed that this case will have an impact on Scotland's BSE-free status.

The case identified is classical BSE. This is the type associated with contaminated feed and variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans, which caused the European mad cow crisis at the end of the 20th century.

The second variety, atypical BSE, appears spontaneously in older cattle and remains unexplained.

Read more

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Political ‘impasse’ stopping progress for Scottish farmers
The UK and Scottish Governments must “resolve the impasse” over policy and financial frameworks and power repatriation

The UK and Scottish Governments must “resolve the impasse” over policy and financial frameworks and power repatriation if they are to create an agricultural policy that “fits the needs and profile of Scottish agriculture”, according to NFU Scotland.

Commenting during a lengthy debate on the draft UK Agriculture Bill on Wednesday, the union’s political affairs manager, Clare Slipper said: “However, we have been equally clear that such a schedule – or any other alternative vehicle – must come about through constructive work between Scottish and UK ministers, rather than being imposed by Westminster.

“It is critical that, within a commonly agreed regulatory and standards framework across the UK, Scotland retains complete autonomy in the development and delivery of new agricultural and rural policy, through an effective transition period, that will enable managed change at business, sector and industry levels,” she said.

Pete Wishart MP told the House of Commons Chamber that the Scottish Government would not agree to a schedule to the bill “as long as this [UK] Parliament and this Government fail to respect the devolution settlement […] We are happy to have common frameworks across the United Kingdom, as we have said again and again, but they have to be agreed and negotiated; they cannot be imposed.”

Terms of reference

Defra Secretary Michael Gove said that his department would soon publish terms of reference for a review of funding across the UK.

“I can guarantee, however, that agricultural funding will not be Barnetised, and the generous—rightly generous—settlement that gives Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales more than England will be defended,” Gove said.

Successive MPs raised concerns that food production and food security needed greater emphasis in the bill: “Food production is missing from this agriculture bill,” said Deidre Brock MP, SNP shadow Defra secretary: “We really cannot talk about how to regulate or support farming unless we also talk about producing food,” she said to the House.

WTO uncertainty

With regard to the vexed question of who should negotiate on the UK’s behalf and how negotiation positions should be reached by the UK Government and devolved administrations, Gove said: “I should stress that the bill will ensure that the UK can take its seat at the World Trade Organisation and negotiate on behalf of the whole United Kingdom.

‘‘Some people have suggested that the bill constitutes a power grab from our devolved Administrations—nothing could be further from the truth.”

Industry backlash over sheep tag proposals
By Emily Smith and William Conlon

Farmers in Scotland may soon be required to use a secondary tag for sheep when sending them to markets or finishers, if draft EU regulations which are currently under consideration are implemented, Farmers Journal Scotland understands.

Commenting on the possibility of the new regulations, a spokesperson for NFU Scotland said: “Last Thursday, NFU Scotland was made aware that a draft delegated regulation has been produced by the European Commission which is relevant to sheep EID. At the moment, normal practice in Scotland is to use slaughter tags for the traceability of sheep destined for slaughter within 12 months of birth. This allows for animals to be sent to markets and finishers in batches without the need to record individual identification numbers or to identify these animals with a secondary tag.”

There are concerns within the industry that such regulations could have a detrimental effect on the store and prime lamb trade.

“I don’t see the need to change the current tagging regulations,” according to Andrew Wright executive secretary to the Institute of Auctioneers and Appraisers in Scotland.

“What it means is that any movement apart from direct to slaughter from the farm of birth will require two tags. Other countries in the EU don’t have the stratified system we have. In Europe the majority of lambs would go direct from farm to slaughter whereas a lot of our lambs will come down of the hill for further feeding.”

“It is not only the increased cost and workload associated with using the additional tags but the requirement that every individual number would be recorded in the flock register. There could be big issues with cross compliance if numbers were entered incorrectly.”

Store buyers

One possibility is that farmers may decide to send sheep directly to abattoirs which could affect numbers moving through auctions.

The NFUS spokesperson confirmed that the Union are currently examining the wording within the draft delegated regulation: “We aim to demonstrate to political representatives in Scotland and Europe that our current sheep traceability provides full traceability without adding over burdensome cost and bureaucracy on our stratified sheep production system.

“It is important to stress that this draft regulation is not final and that discussions will continue in Europe on this draft delegated regulation.”

Chairman of the National Sheep Association (NSA) Scotland, John Fyall has also confirmed that the organisation will work with other stakeholders to address any possible implications: “We found out about this very late in the day and we’re slightly put out that Defra didn’t think to consult NSA stakeholders.

“NSA headquarters have only been made aware of this in the last fortnight and it’s frankly shocking that the whole industry has only found out about this late in the day.”

It is not yet known when these draft proposals, if passed, would come into effect for Scottish farmers.

Both the Scottish Government and Defra were approached for a comment, but failed to respond before publication.