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Borders Farmer Aims to Increase Profitability Through Better Grass Utilisation

Borders farmer Jim Logan has hosted the second in a series of Grazing Groups, set up by Quality Meat Scotland (QMS), on his Pirntaton Farm at Fountainhall, Galashiels.

The new groups are part of an initiative by QMS aimed at improving livestock producers’ profitability by maximising the kilograms of meat produced per hectare of forage.

Mr Logan is currently changing both sheep and cattle livestock systems and believes this is the right time to make changes to his grazing regime too.

The 570ha farm runs from 750 feet to 1700 feet and has a mixture of temporary and permanent grass with a significant area of rough grazing and some fodder crops.

The farm has traditionally run a stratified system of a closed flock of 1550 sheep; breeding pure Blackface for replacements, crossing them to produce Scotch Mules and crossing these progeny with Texel and Suffolk rams to produce prime lambs. But over the last couple of years Mr Logan has taken the big step of introducing Easy-care, Romney and Lleyn genetics with the aim of working towards a more Easy-care/forage based type system.

By using mostly his existing ewes and bringing in different breeds of rams, Mr Logan is hoping to get back to a closed flock as soon as possible. He will retain the best of the females while everything else is finished and sold deadweight to Woodhead Brothers.

"We have used a lot of genetics which have been heavily selected to cope with a low labour, grass-based system,” said Mr Logan. “I felt our old system was under pressure especially from a labour and purchased feed point of view and it was time to change. With a change of lambing date, altering our genetics and selection criteria, I hope to build a system with more resilience for the challenges of the future."

The business was also heavily reliant on income from pedigree sales of Texel and Suffolk rams and also Aberdeen Angus cattle, which were all high-input, and Mr Logan feels a better balance within the business has to be achieved. He plans to continue producing pedigree Texel shearlings for sale at Kelso Ram Sale while expanding the flocks of unregistered Texels and Suffolk flocks. He feels that the expenditure and time saved in sale preparation and feed can only be good for his business and, just as importantly, the health of the rams.

The cattle enterprise is also undergoing change with some of the 100 pure and crossbred Aberdeen Angus suckler cows having been crossed with a Hereford for the first time to try to regain some hybrid vigour. Some of the female progeny will be retained and a criss-cross system using both native breeds will hopefully produce some good results.

The cattle are already on a grass-based system although bull calves have been kept entire and finished on a forage and cereal mix before being sold to AK Stoddart at an average of 330kg deadweight. Most of the 2014 male calves have been castrated with the aim of moving back to grass- fed steer production.

Mr Logan was looking forward to his first meeting especially as he is currently going through a period of change with his genetics and he said he is very open to new ideas.

He is no stranger to rotational grazing systems, having tried them successfully in the past and having rotationally grazed most of his ewes and lambs this year, but he likes the idea of having the technology and expertise provided by QMS. He said: "I think it’s a good idea that we are in this scheme for three years because it will provide us with data to back up our experiences from what has been a very steep learning curve."

He pointed out that every year is different and said that last year there was a shortage of grass while this year most of Scotland has been over-whelmed with grass, and he believes the experience of being in the Grazing Group will help farmers cope with different situations. Another big driver for him personally is to cut down on grain and concentrate use.

Michael Blanche, who is co-ordinating the Grazing Group meetings said: "This first meeting was all about assessing where the host farmer is, setting targets and working out a roadmap to achieve these targets."

New Zealand sheep farmer and grazing expert, Murray Rohloff is attending some of the meetings and brought his vast experience to the Borders. Jim was impressed when he heard Murray speak at a meeting last year and believes a lot can be learned from the unsubsidised industry in New Zealand, however noted that systems would have to be adapted to suit the Scottish climate and growing conditions.

One of the aims of the first meeting was to assess the potential at Pirntaton. "The potential of each farm is something that will be really interesting to explore,” said Mr Blanche. “We will be looking a lot at feed budgeting at grass and measuring actual grass growth on each farm.  We will look at the soil too.  It becomes crystal clear when you start measuring grass in every field once a fortnight, just how much yield loss you get by not having your pH, Ps or Ks right in certain fields. The differences between fields can be frightening.

“We need to work out how much grass the farms can grow and then work out what the demand is for optimum performance for the optimum number of livestock.”

Anyone wishing to join the Grazing Group and attend future meetings at Pirntaton should contact Kirsty at QMS on 0131 472 4040 or email info@qmscotland.co.uk.