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Ewen Campbell, SRUC’s Kirkton and Auchtertyre research farms manager
Harvest is now in full swing up and down the country, and seems to be going reasonably well.
Word is that there is less straw this year and with all the competition from anaerobic digesters and the like, it looks like buying straw for bedding is going to be seriously expensive. There are even some suggestions that it could be more expensive than hay.
We leave our cows outside at Kirkton and Auchtertyre for as long as possible because of this. But despite the large acreage of the farms, there are not many places suitable for feeding cows outside and eventually we have to bring them in.
Hopefully, this is a long way off and it is great to go up the hill at the moment and see them ranging out for miles, right to the top of the hill and enjoying the warm summer.
The calves are doing well on just their mothers’ milk. But it will not be long before we take them in for weaning and give the cows a chance to build up some fat cover to take them through the winter.
It is a bit of a surprise that even with the fantastic sunny and warm weather over the past two months, we still ended up having slightly above average rainfall over this period. We did, however, have fewer rainfall days than average, with most of the rain falling in just a few days, including five days when we had thunderstorms.
We had a period of 16 days, starting on June 21 when we had no rain, one of the longest dry periods we have had in recent years.
So far this year, we have had 12 days when the temperature exceeded 25 degrees C. We haven’t had that number of days above 25 degrees C since 1995.
I decided I would leave two of the fields that were cut for silage at the beginning of July ungrazed in the hope that we can get a second cut at the end of August, something we have not done for many years. We will just have to see whether the weather is on our side. If it is not, we have plenty mouths to feed which could utilise the good grass.
We recently weaned the tup lambs from our Auchtertyre and Corrie flocks and put the ewe lambs back out to the hill with their mothers. This gives the ewe lambs a bit more time with their ewes to become hefted to the hill, especially the twins which have been on inbye fields for the summer.
All lambs from our Kirkton and Lleyn flocks will be weaned soon too, where we also weigh and condition score all the ewes. The tup lambs will be finished on farm, some of which will go straight into the shed with finishing pellets and the others will stay out on grass with pellets for a wee while longer. It won’t be too long until we start taking the first batch to Scotbeef.
We obtained permission from SGRPID to do some improvement of the land below the railway line at Auchtertyre where we had sprayed the bracken last year. So I have been out with the quad bike spreading prilled lime, fertiliser and a grass seed mix of native hill grass species and clover onto these areas of bracken litter.
We will run some sheep over these areas to tread in the seed and hopefully in the coming years we will get back some valuable grazing land.
The species-rich grassland that we sowed back in 2016, as part of our agri-environment scheme, has been a riot of colour this summer and a valuable habitat for pollinating insects.
Our fenced water margins have also been full of flowers over the past few weeks, including meadowsweet, common valerian and wild angelica.
At the beginning of July the Cabinet Secretary for the Environment, Roseanna Cunningham, visited Kirkton to see what we are doing on the farms for biodiversity, both in terms of land management and research.
It was a pity that after many days of dry and sunny weather, on the day of the visit it was cloudy and damp. Despite the weather, Ms Cunningham did get an opportunity to see our developing mountain woodland high up in one of our hill glens.
We had a group of 40 civil engineering and environmental engineering students from the University of Stuttgart visit the farm. This was part of a week-long tour during which they were visiting power plants and environmental protection projects, covering both large- and small-scale projects.
They were particularly interested in new approaches in the farming sector and the work we have been doing on greenhouse gas emissions and the ecosystem services provided by grazed upland landscapes.
Our two Arkansas students headed home this week after their two-month stay at the farms. They got to experience both practical sheep farming and livestock research. The sheep husbandry aspect of their internship was something entirely new to them.