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.


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.

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.


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

South Korea to tighten US checks after BSE case

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.