Farm Profit Programme: The going is good at Greenvale
Mark and Shona Mackay run a 150-cow herd at Greenvale farm, Dunnet near Thurso. Declan Marren speaks to them about progress this spring.

The grazing season kicked off properly here on 16 April this year, earlier than in recent years. There were a few reasons for this. Firstly, we had a decent spring weather-wise, with favourable conditions throughout late March and into April. That allowed us to get fertiliser and slurry out earlier in spring. We targeted slurry on grazing ground and spread 2,000gal/ac on 19-20 March. This was followed up on 10 April with 27-6-6 at a rate of 125kg/ha, on ground that had slurry and 250kg/ha on paddocks that had no slurry.

Turnout

On 16 April we let out 25 cows and calves to the paddocks across from the yard. These currently consist of 11ha split into three divisions. There is scope here to sub-divide each of these again in the coming weeks as grass growth increases to give us greater control of the sward quality in front of stock. We have since added another four cows and calves to this group and have another grazing group of 36 cows and their calves out since 24 April.

It really has been great to get them out early as at one stage it looked like we would have to buy-in silage to see us through. Instead, we have ended up with some silage left in the pit for next winter.

We are measuring grass growth weekly with a plate meter to keep an eye on both supply and demand of grass. This allows us to make proactive rather than reactive decisions in terms of fertiliser applications and knowing when we have enough of a surplus of grass to remove a paddock for silage.

Last week growth rates averaged 47kgDM/ha/day, while our demand sits at 43kgDM/ha/day. This means we are growing just over the amount of grass that we are eating each day at the moment. With an increase in temperatures this week and some light rain to keep soil moisture right, we expect to see growth improve further.

If this does happen we will look to split the paddocks where necessary and if we have a surplus of grass it will be removed as baled silage.

Spring calving

We have had a good calving this year with the spring herd. Of the 93 cows that went to the bull last year, 91 were in calf. From this we have now calved 86 and have 88 calves on the ground. We have lost a small number of calves, but a few sets of twins has made up the difference. Over 90% of these calved in a nine-week period, with just six left to calve at the start of May.

Summer herd

1 May marks the start of the summer herd calving. These cows are out-wintered on a sandy hill and fed silage throughout the winter. Of the 58 that went to the bull just one scanned empty. Calving is progressing well with these, we just draft them down from where they are out-wintered a couple of times a week as they look to be coming close to calving. They stay outdoors in the fields beside the yard. That way if there are any problems they are easy to run into the sheds. Mostly though they are working away on their own, which is how it should be.

Replacement heifers

We have a batch of 14 heifers to go to the bull this year. These are mainly Angus heifers and the plan is to put them to the Shorthorn bull we purchased last autumn. All the heifers come into the spring herd here. As mentioned earlier there were six cows from the spring herd still to calve at the start of May. These will now go into the summer herd. This way we can keep the summer herd numbers up when we remove culls. It also saves calving heifers twice a year.

We bought in a small number of in-calf heifers last year also and they have worked out well. I am quite picky when it comes to the type of cow I want coming into the herd – they need to be quiet, sound on their feet, have plenty of milk and not be too big. We may look to add a few numbers this way again later in the year.

We used to calve the heifers a fortnight earlier than the rest of the herd, but we have moved away from this as it just extended the length of the calving season for us. We may look to use a synchronisation programme on them so that they are still calving early in the season to give them as much time as possible to go back in calf again the following year.

Store cattle

Most of the store cattle have been sold this spring. Prices were really good so anything that was up to weight was sold. There is a batch of over 20 still here and they will be grazed for the year and sold off-grass at the end of the summer.

Land work

This spring has been the first in a few years that we have been able to get some much-needed field work done. We have sorted drains that had stopped working and added new drains where needed in a couple of fields also. One field we drained, which is about 20 acres, was going to need reseeding so we decided to sow spring barley in it this year. This will give us extra feed barley and hopefully reduce the amount of straw we need to buy. It will also break up the ground nicely and we will get it back to grass again next year.

This extra barley ground has only been possible by intensifying the grazing through the use of paddocks.

Farmer Writes: easing into the winter routine
Lanarkshire farmer Tom French is bringing an old breeding policy back onto his farm this winter.

I recently attended the dinner dance at the Cartland Bridge Hotel to celebrate Lanark & District Young Farmers’ Club’s 75th anniversary.

It was an excellent night with a few refreshments and tales of times gone by. Having been chair of the club a mere 26 years ago, I wasn’t surprised by the vivid recollection of errant behaviour and misdemeanours.

The next day didn’t get off to a great start – bleary eyed, slightly hoarse and not up as early as had been intended. I then discovered the loader tractor had a puncture. I had enough on without repairing the tyre, so decided to use the pump. But in the end, the time spent repeatedly inflating the tyre, I’d have been better completing the repair first thing.

The cattle are now all inside, and have been for three weeks. To reduce costs, we tried to keep them out as long as possible, but ground conditions were deteriorating rapidly and in the end it was a false economy – as those outside were eating just as much, if not more, than the ones already housed.

They have settled in well, although we’re struggling to keep them clean despite regular bedding changes.

I have carried out a pretty thorough assessment of forage stocks and at current usage we should have enough to see us through to the second week in May, but with no surplus to sell.

To give the rest some breathing space, a few cows will be culled this week. Ranging in age from 15 down to nine, two were too old to go to the bull, one was not in-calf and the last one will be culled because of temperament.

Trade isn’t good for cast cows, but the margins on store cattle also look tight, with feed prices substantially up on last year.

If cashflow allows we will avoid marketing any stores until late January or early February, by which time trade will hopefully have improved.

Limousin sale

We attended the Limousin Society show and sale at Carlisle in October, and managed to secure a bull for very reasonable money (2,800 gns). The animal has a fair bit of scale and good length, and was one of the few on the day with good EBV figures for calving ease.

I fear there is a danger that some of the breeders of bulls are forgetting why the Limousin breed has gained popularity over the years, as they chase other attributes and prize tickets.

Through the summer we also managed to buy a couple of pure, young Limousin cows with calves at foot. One came with a heifer calf (which may be retained for breeding) and is back in-calf to Lodge Hamlet, a renowned, easy calving Limousin bull. The other has a bull calf at foot. The calf looks nothing special at the moment, but will be reared naturally and allowed to develop. Hopefully, it might yet make the grade as a stock bull.

These purchases mark a return to a previous policy, which unfortunately has slipped, of breeding future stock bulls for home use while also improving the quality of the stock on the farm.

For too long I’ve allowed the process to be dominated by budgetary constraints, but I’ve now reminded myself of the mantra – if you’re spending your life working with something, you may as well work with something you like.

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‘Where there’s livestock, there’s deadstock’ applies equally to machinery

A warm May has made for excellent growth rates at Balgray.

Highland show members area ready for 2020
RHASS announced plans for a £5m new members area at Ingliston.

The Royal Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland (RHASS) has announced details of a £5m building to be the new members’ area and a year-round flexible event space. Construction firm Robertson has been named as the builder for the 3,000 sq m facility. Construction will begin in February 2019 and will be completed in time for the 180th Royal Highland Show in June 2020.

Scottish view: beef price fear grows
Farmers Journal Scotland editor John Sleigh gives his take on the market this week.

Another difficult week for beef producers, as the reported steer price dipped to £3.78/kg for an R4L, down 2p. Cows were back 4p/kg to £2.43/kg for an O+4L.

Historically, cow prices should have stopped any seasonal decline by now, but prices continue to dip. Only 2015 is similar, when price slipped until mid-December for cow and clean beef. A strong supply of manufacturing beef will help prevent the cow price from rising quickly.

Many farmers feel cow numbers are dropping as herds look to remove all passengers this winter and avoid expensive feed bills.

However, the cows are not being killed in Scotland. There has been a sharp decline in cows processed north of the border, with numbers down on the year in 15 out of the last 16 weeks.

Total volumes of cows processed between August and October were back 16% on the year.

Numbers of cows processed continue to decline through November, with 14.9% less cattle.

However, the cow kill in England has risen 11 consecutive months to October 2018.

So it could be a case that the lack of a cow premium in Scotland is pushing them south and sucking clean beef up.

Positive lamb trade

Lamb prices jumped at the marts this week by an average of 8p/kg to £1.81/kg for medium weight lambs, as over 16,000 were sold.

Continental store lambs were making on average between £50 and £65/head, cheviots averaged £50/head and Blackfaces sold for between £40 and £60/head.