International visits help with autumn’s work

Dairy ewes near the communal shepherds’ hut in the French Pyrennees at 1700m altitude.

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By Ewen Campbell, SRUC’s Kirkton and Auchtertyre research farms manager

It has been a while since our last column from SRUC’s Kirkton and Auchtertyre farms, but there has been a lot going on.

In the last article, in August, I was hoping to take a second cut of silage (something which has not happened here in a long time, if ever) and this duly happened at the end of the first week of September.

We took a bit of a gamble and cut on Thursday September 6 when the weather was anything but settled. Indeed, there were a few showers going around as the fields were being cut. But things dried up on Friday and we managed to get it all baled and wrapped on the Saturday in fairly good condition.

We will be sampling and analysing it soon to see what the quality is like. The extra 120 bales will make a big difference to the amount of fodder we need to buy in over the winter and the grass has grown again meaning that there should be plenty for flushing ewes at tupping time.

The SHX calves from our AAX cow herd were weaned at the beginning of October with an average weaning weight of 244kg, straight off the cow from the hill with no feeding. This equates to a daily live weight gain of 1.14kg/day, which is almost exactly the same as last year at 1.13kg/day. They were kept in the shed for just over a month before the bullock calves went off to SRUC Barony at an average weight of 292kg where they will be finished.

The heifer calves are due to go to SRUC Oatridge for wintering soon. Overall, we are very pleased with how the calves have done and how the cows have performed this year.

We have also managed to wean all our lambs in the past couple of months, with all ewe lambs now away to their wintering and some tup lambs have been sent to the abattoir. So far, 150 lambs have gone to slaughter with the majority getting a grade of R3L but we still have about 250 to go. So far they are averaging about £5/hd more than last year.

This year we decided to keep all of our Auchtertyre lambs to finish instead of selling them store and as usual our tup lambs are finished in the shed with ad-lib finisher pellets and straw. However, this year is a bit different as some of our lambs are being finished using our latest kit. These are a series of individual EID feed intake bins, which record which lamb is eating what. This detail of knowing how much individual lambs have eaten will allow us to calculate their individual feed efficiency (ie, how much feed they required to get to the correct weight and fatness).

We have also just finished our stockdraw, where we check which ewes we should keep for the next season. We check their feet, udders, teeth, as well as past performance, to name a few. It is quite a long job, but necessary. The sheep are now back on the hill until we gather them again for pre-tupping next month.

We have had some help with the sheep – a PhD student from the University of Parana in Brazil, Vanessa Souza Soriana, who is on a placement at SRUC with colleagues in Edinburgh.

Vanessa was keen to see more extensive sheep production systems, so she stayed with us for two weeks, and was looking at animal welfare assessments on our flocks, following an EU project protocol called AWIN. Vanessa really enjoyed Kirkton, and it will be interesting to get her final findings.

As for myself, I had a very enjoyable trip to Mull last month to do a presentation on lamb finishing as part of a sheep resilience meeting. The meeting was very well attended despite the foul weather and prompted a lot of discussion on topics like fluke control and condition scoring, after presentations by my SAC Consulting colleagues Heather Stevenson and Poppy Frater.

And to finish on a different note, two of my colleagues, Nicola Lambe and Claire Morgan-Davies, have just returned from a trip to the French Pyrennees, where they presented the work being done on mountain breeds here at SRUC’s Kirkton and Auchtertyre.

Despite the differences in terms of production (dairy sheep) and landscape (dry mountain pastures), these areas face similar issues to ours (problem of access to labour, economic viability, remoteness and predators). These issues were common across all mountain areas in Europe.