Graham Lofthouse farms sheep and cattle at his farm, Bankhouse, in the Scottish Boarders.
On the 137ha farm he has 490 ewes and 120 ewe lambs which produced 976 lambs this year.
He also runs 90 cows and calves and has 43 of the stores born last year.
The sheep are all easy care, with most bred pure apart from 150 which go to a Suffolk tup.
“I grew 2ha of fodder beet last year and I am not sure I will do it again. All the leaf disappeared in the cold weather. We had snow for a month.
“I had planned to have 500 ewes on the fodder beet for 90 days starting on 11 January but the ewes were struggling due to the lack of protein so after a month I took 300 of them into the shed.
Losing the leaf in the frost was like losing one-third of the crop
“The remaining 200 were then given 200g of soya per day per ewe fed in a box trough. The inside ewes were fed good-quality silage plus 200g of soya.
“Losing the leaf in the frost was like losing one-third of the crop.
I can see if you farm somewhere mild or near the coast it can be a good crop but for us it didn’t work
“The leaf is 32% protein and the bulb is only around 7% so if you lose the leaf you lose the balance. The bulb has plenty energy, though, with 13ME.
“I can see if you farm somewhere mild or near the coast it can be a good crop but for us it didn’t work.
“Sometimes we think if it works in New Zealand it should work here but that is not always the case.
Dark grains and barley
“The ewes were then put on to a pre-lambing diet around five to six weeks before giving birth from 5 April.
“This was high-quality silage which was tested at 25% dry matter, 18% protein and 12.1ME.
“Then three weeks before lambing we introduced 300g each of dark grains and whole barley mixed 50-50.
“The majority of the flock were lambed inside the shed, with 100 left outside to lamb.
By 14 May we ended up with 975 lambs
“On 11 February, we scanned 613 ewes and ewe lambs with an overall rate of 175% or 1,072 potential lambs.
“By 14 May we ended up with 975 lambs which was a mortality rate of 9% which would be 2% above our normal.
“I would say that the fodder beet played a large part in this as the quality of the colostrum was not there at the start of lambing and we had lighter birth weights than normal.”
Struggled for grass
“Between 25 February and 21 March we had measured the grass and recorded zero grass growth.
“By late March we were up to 12.5kgDM/day but this quickly dropped down to 5-6kgDM/day during lambing as it was so cold.
“This meant we increased the ration to the ewes to 0.5kg of the dark grains and whole barley mix.
“The triplets were getting 1kg of the ration per day. We fed the ewes with a single lamb until the end of April, the twins into the start of May and the triplets stopped getting fed the second week of May.”
Grass demand not met until 14 May
“We are not massive users of nitrogen as we typically put on 65kg per hectare. If we put more on, we would have too much grass at the peak and be unable to utilise it.
“This spring, we didn’t meet our demand for grass until 14 May. We needed 30kg DM/day and we hit 31kg DM/day on 14 May.
The start of June we saw 77kgDM/day then rising to 82kgDM/day in mid-June
“The growth rate lifted to 36kg DM/day in the third week of May before getting to 61kg DM/day at the end of the month.
“The start of June we saw 77kgDM/day then rising to 82kgDM/day in mid-June before crashing due to a lack of rain. Last week, we were down to 47kgDM/day.
“Despite this, the lambs are thriving. I think sheep thrive better in dry conditions as they seem to get nutrients out of the grass. We will be drawing our first batch of lambs this week.”
“For this winter we have made our first cut of silage. The quality won’t be there as much of it has bolted because the grass rushed through the growth stages once there was heat and moisture at the end of May.
“I estimate we could be 150t of silage short this winter. We have put in 4ha of swedes on 11 June and are putting in 7.5ha of redstart this week.”
Robert MacDonald farms 540 sheep and 120 cows at the Castle Grant home farm at Granton on Spey in the Scottish Highlands.
The 364ha farm extends from 900ft to 1,200ft above sea level, with ploughable pasture and steep hill ground in the unit.
“We had a good lambing which was helped by a lot of grass in the back end of last year.
“The ewes scanned well and we were fortunate with the weather at lambing. From 10 April we had three weeks of dry but it was cold down to -6 and -7 in the mornings.
“But into May the weather turned. We had 4in of snow on 4 May. Luckily the lambs were up and running by then.
“However, some hill farms lambing in May were more badly hit. I have heard of terrible lambings out west.
“And I heard a few of the Perthshire farmers losing a lot of lambs in the bad weather despite lambing earlier in the year.
“I suspect it could have something to do with the thinner skins on the continental breeds.”
“It wasn’t a cheap winter. It snowed with us before Christmas and it was with us until the beginning of March which meant of two and half months of feeding. We fed the baled silage on top of the snow with the McHale bedder.
“I also fed turnips which were bought for £15-£22/t ex farm. In the runup to lambing the ewe got 0.5kg of beat pulp, high-protein ewe rolls and access to treacle.
“We run a flock of mainly Lairg-type Cheviots. The 120 gimmers and around 140 ewes are bred pure. Around 180 go to a Bluefaced Leicester to make Cheviot mules.
“The last 100 go to a traditional Suffolk. I have tried New Zealand genetics but I found the quality, the conformation for the store ring wasn’t there so went back to traditional.
“The harder winters here prevent the lambs getting big which helps lambing go relatively smoothly.”
Feeding sheep until 23 May
“If you spoke to any farmer in May they were all wondering when the grass would grow. We kept feeding the sheep until 23 May. They were getting ewe rolls and turnips because we had no grass.
“We haven’t fully caught up with the grass. I would say we are running 10 days behind where would normally. But if we get a bit of rain then we should be silaging close to our normal date of 20 July.
I keep the smallest 25% back and sell them store in November
“Then in August we will wean and sell around three-quarters of our lambs. On the farm it is just myself and my wife so I don’t have a lot of time to be drawing lambs.
“If I get between £60 to £80 per head I am happy enough and it leaves a bit of margin for the finisher.
“I keep the smallest 25% back and sell them store in November. Up here you cannot finish lambs after November. The weather is against you.
“Three weeks ago I would have said we were in a good place for a decent lamb trade but the market looks to be dropping like a stone this last week or so.
“The bottom end of the fat lambs are going for £90-£95/head so I hope the slump has stopped and it will rally a bit.
“Deadweight prices have fallen to around £5.30/kg and the live ring under £2.40/kg.
“I really hope the hill store lamb producer gets a touch of the profit which many of the finishers enjoyed this spring.
“Without the producer there is not going to be anything for the finisher to buy. It can be a bit disheartening that someone else is making all the profit off the back of your labours.”