Some of Scotland’s most pioneering farmers and agricultural specialists are set to share their secrets for winter preparation at the next Sutherland Monitor Farm meeting.

The meeting, which will focus on taking steps to prepare for the winter months, will begin at the Sutherland Inn Hotel in Brora followed by a visit to Clynelish farm, Sutherland’s Monitor Farm.

Grass alternatives

Jim Logan of Pirntaton Farm, Galashiels will talk through some of the improvements he has made to his business in recent years and how they have lifted his farm performance and profitability. He will also share his strategy for the winter months ahead.

Pirntaton is a large upland livestock unit in the Scottish Borders. It covers 640ha – 570ha of which is effective – and is a mixture of improved and native pastures including over 100ha of heather moorland.

It currently carries around 2,150 breeding ewes, 120 suckler cows and 190 hinds with plans to increase to at least 400 hinds in the future.

As well as Pirntaton, Logan and two staff members manage a further 850 ewes on a neighbouring sporting estate.

Over the last few years, he has altered the livestock genetics on the farm significantly and focused very much on improving his pasture management, including setting up a successful winter grazing system. However, he is always looking for new ways to improve his system.

“Last winter and this spring have really tested our system and shown us that further work is required to give us a system that will stand up to extreme weather conditions,” he said.

“In order to make up for the lack of grass growth, we have been looking at alternatives that will see us through this winter.

We have stitched brassica into some of our permanent grass fields, and oat seed into others. We are also trialling different varieties of rape and purchasing wheat straw to ammonia treat.

“If successful we may look to make some of the measures standard practice.”

During the meeting, Iain MacDonald from Norvite will also highlight winter feeding options including silage nutrition.

As well as describing a range of alternative feeds, MacDonald will explain what kind of growth rates can be achieved from different rations and what the costs of these are likely to be this year.

Clynelish Farm took the decision when grass was in short supply to wean their lambs early this year to give the ewes more time to recover and allow them to gain condition.

Condition scoring

Following lunch, the group will move to Clynelish, where Sheep Specialist Kirsten Williams from SAC Consulting will lead a practical session covering the importance of ‘MOTing’ rams, ewe body condition scoring and ewe nutrition pre and post-tupping.

Jason and Vic Ballantyne will also give an update on what has been happening at Clynelish since the last meeting and share their own feed calculations for the winter.

The Ballantynes took over the day-to-day running of the 125ha tenanted farm in 2012 and currently run 900 breeding ewes and 80 suckler cows.

This spring, the Ballantynes, like many other livestock farmers, were struggling to source feed. This was further complicated as the neighbouring distillery, their usual source of draff, was closed for maintenance. The couple ended up buying in some silage which didn’t give them the results they were looking for.

Keen to avoid that situation again, the Ballantynes have been planning ahead for this winter.

Planning ahead

“This is a good time of year for us to take stock and plan for the coming months. Decisions we make now can influence outcomes for the next few years, so we are aware of the importance of getting it right,” said Victoria Ballantyne.

“Like everyone, we are really hoping this winter is shorter and drier than last year, but if it isn’t we need to have a plan in place to fill the feed gap if we run short,” she added.

“We have done some basic feed budgeting based on what we know we have in sheds and in the ground. We also know what stock we expect to carry so this gives us somewhere to start from,” added Jason Ballantyne.

“We have also made some of the best hay we’ve ever made this year so that should help this winter too.”

Clynelish Farm is one of nine monitor farms established in Scotland as part of a joint initiative by Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) and AHDB Cereals & Oilseeds with funding from the Scottish Government.

The meeting at the Sutherland Inn Hotel in Brora on Tuesday, September 11, is free to attend and open to all. It will begin at 11:00am.

Farmers interested in attending should confirm attendance with the facilitators Willie Budge or Cat MacGregor by phoning SAC Thurso on: 01847-892602; or emailing: [email protected].