On a fine spring day, Robert Gilchrist and John Sleigh met with the Duguid family to discuss their preparations for calving and lambing.

With the snow gone from all but the coldest corners of parks, the spring-like weather at the end of February is the boost Arthur, Muriel and Scott need, as they get cows and sheep into condition for a successful spring.

Last autumn, the Duguids’ spring cow herd was scanned and body condition scored before being divided into three management groups. These groups were based on cow condition – fat, thin and moderate.

To squeeze out more feed for livestock spring, the Duguids planted forage rye after winter barley in the second week of September.

They were then allocated different diets to fatten up the thinner cows, slim down the fatter cows and maintain condition on the moderate cows.

Alternative cow diets save £70/head

The cows in the best condition were housed on a plain straw diet with access to urea molasses. This cost £1.10/day, including high protein molasses at 47p/l.

The Duguids cows which were wintered on Swift and silage costing 91p/day.

The moderate cows were fed on 14ac of the brassica hybrid rape Swift, with access to silage on their run back in a neighbouring grass field. The Swift was direct drilled on 17 July into an old grass sward, with the drill costing £27ac and seed £21/ac.

The day after drilling, it was sprayed with glyphosate to kill existing seeds and provide a stale seed bed for the seeds to germinated and grow in. This was at a cost of keeping these cows through winter until they came inside at the start of February was £23/cow for the winter or 91p/day.

The thin cows were fed inside on a diet of straw and silage through a mixer wagon. This cost around £1.70/day.

Growing stock at the Duguids ready for sale this spring.

“The cows did well on the three diets, with the thinner and fatter ones getting into the right condition for calving. Some of the outside cows perhaps thrived better than expected, but they are by no means too fat for calving,” said Arthur.

Scott’s sheep project

Last September, Scott bought 100 four and five crop ewes from a hill farm for £94/head. He then tupped them with a Suffolk ram and they are due to start lambing this weekend.

“I bought these sheep as an opportunity to do more with the farm,” said Scott.

Scott bought 100 four- and five-crop ewes to lamb this month before being sold with lambs in April and May.

“With us only growing winter cereals, there is capacity to lamb some sheep in March in the dutch barn.”

The ewes have been inside for the last month and lambing should begin this weekend. Prior to that, they were on a stubble field, being fed home-grown neeps, silage and molasses with mineral tubs.

They are now inside on 250g of 20% protein ewe rolls, silage, molasses and mineral tubs. Currently, ewes with lambs at foot are making around £80-£90/live, leaving Scott hoping this will still be the case when they come to market in April and May.

Flock numbers up

In addition to ‘Scott’s project’ the farm purchased another 40 in-lamb ewes to join the main flock. They were bought for £110/head to replace the 20 ewes not in lamb at scanning and the odd death in the run up to lambing, which begins on 7 April.

“They are a mixed bunch of ewes made up of various crosses,” said Arthur. “Let’s just call them decent sheep.”

The main flock of 320 ewes has been grazing on 4ac of fodder beet since the start of December, with around 50 bales of silage. The ewes also had mineral tubs and as they came closer to lambing, they were given molasses.

The fodder beet variety was Bangor and it was grown in dreels with the ewes strip grazing the field. They are moving the four wire electric fences daily.

With the beet now finished, the ewes are being moved onto a grass field to be fed molasses, cobs, silage and tubs. This spring, flock numbers reached the highest number since they lambed over 460 on the farm 10 years ago. In the past, Scott’s sisters helped out at lambing, but this year Gemma will be busy working for Aberdeen Northern Marts as a fieldsperson in Caithness with the weekly livestock sales throughout April.

Amy won’t be available either, as she has moved to Ireland with her partner, so the family is looking for temporary staff from the village for a few weeks at lambing.