“It has been cold and white for most of this winter,” said Andy Duffus, who farms near Tomintoul, the highest town in Scotland. “The snow came before Christmas and is just starting to leave now with some parks starting to look bare in the middle. The coldest we had was minus 11.”
Despite the cold weather the water hasn’t been off since most is insulated or he just leaves it running slowly to keep a flow and prevent a buildup of ice.
Inside the sheds Andy has his autumn-calving herd of 33 mainly Simmental cross cows and calves.
“We finished up calving on 27 December with a Charolais bull calf,” explained Andy. From the 33 cows that went to the bull, the farm has 31 calves. This includes two sets of twins and three deaths. Two calves were lost to pneumonia and one was born too early to survive.
These cows are fed silage and straw in a mixed ration topped up with 2kg of bruised barley with minerals along the trough. Andy has always fed his minerals with bruised barely to ensure each cow gets what they need.
The Shorthorn and Charolais bulls went in at the start of December. The Shorthorn will come out in February after 10 weeks and to tighten the calving this autumn, Andy will pull the Charolais bull out at the end of January as his calves can be late.
Stores up £40/head
The last batch autumn yearlings were sold at Thainstone mart on 15 January. Typically stock is sold sooner than this, with most going in November and December. Andy was pleased with the sale which was up 8p to 10p per kilo on the year with the steers averaging £991/head and the heifers £933/head. The steers averaged 406kg and realised £2.44/kg and the heifers averaged 384kg and realised £2.43/kg.
Since being housed in the back end, they were fed on a mix of 5kg draff, 2.5kg bruised barley and good silage at a cost of £1.10/day
The stores were mainly from Simmental cross cows put to a Charolais bull but there were also some Shorthorn-sired cattle.
“It is the same buyers every year for the continental cattle but I am seeing some new names buying the Shorthorns,” Andy said.
“Despite Charolais stores always being in demand there seems to be less of a price difference between them and the Shorthorns nowadays. I sold a 440kg Shorthorn for £1,080 and a 430kg Charolais for £1,060.”
Spring herd scanning
The spring-calving herd was scanned back in November and Andy was pleased with the results. Spring calving will start mid-March with the Continentals in the shed and the Highlanders and Shorthorns outside.
The 35 Highland and Highland cross cows were scanned with only two empty. One was a freemartin which Andy had let run with the bull and the other was an older cow.
The 21 Shorthorn cross cows were all scanned in-calf and out of the 41 indoor calving Continentals only two were empty.
The two hill herds are currently being run together on the turnips. They are being fed three bales of hay every second day to give them a long fibre allocation of 6.5kg of hay plus 150 litres of pot ale. The cows also get six dreels of neeps which are around 100 yards long. They are fenced with two wires of electric fence off of a solar powered fencer.
“I had run a single wire in the park at first but the Highland cows were just put their nose down and pushing the fence over,” admitted Andy. “So I now have two strands and it is working well.”
Turnips working well
The turnips look to be yielding well in the 16-acre field, with less than four acres eaten so far. The cows also have access to 20 acres of dry and sheltered hill ground so will be staying there throughout calving before being turned back out to the hill in May. Closer to calving the cows will get a pre-calver mineral bucket.
Any turnips left after the cows will be eaten by the ewes in the run-up to lambing, with Andy walking them to the park. The exercise should help prevent prolapses in the sheep which can be an issue if sheep are fed turnips close to lambing if they don’t move around enough.
The turnips have been a success for Andy and he plans to grow another 10 acres for next winter. These will be used as part of a reseeding strategy, going in a field which has not been ploughed for 14 years. It is also protected by deer fencing as if they get in they could decimate the crop.
Continental cows on stubble neeps
The Continental cows have wintered so far on a 12-acre field of stubble turnips left over after the lambs were sold and will be out until the end of the January when they will come inside for calving. Once housed, the cows will be fed on a similar diet to the autumn calvers plus some soya in the last six weeks before calving.
The cows have grown a good coat of hair outside. At one point there was a foot of snow on top of the turnips which meant that they were eating more hay. However, the Shorthorns and Highlanders managed to forage through the snow to the larger turnips and didn’t eat any more hay.
The cows will likely eat six or seven acres of the stubble turnips by the time that they are housed. The lambs had already eaten around three acres worth which means there should be at least a couple acres left in February for ewes to go on to pre-lambing.
Andy isn’t so sure about growing stubble turnips again. He is happy with the yield but feels there are too many smaller bulbs which the cows are not interested in eating. He might try kale or just more swedes which seem to have less waste.
Last lambs sold
Last Tuesday, Andy sold the last of his 2020 lamb crop as stores at Thainstone mart. The 90 lambs averaged £76/head with the best going for £92/head. Weights averaged between 30kg and 35kg. Prior to selling them, Andy considered buying feed and finishing them on the farm but on further consideration, he didn’t. Between a lack of time and the risk of the market turning coupled with the fact that he finds the colder weather he gets doesn’t help lambs to get fat meant he decided against it.
The previous batch of 140 stores sold two weeks before Christmas were sold for similar prices. Apart from the first batch of fat lambs which went for £83/head the vast majority of Andy’s lambs have sold for between £70-£80/head both selling fat in the summer and store in the winter.
With such demand for store lambs in the early in the year, Andy joked: “I might trying lambing in June!”