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How to Make the Best of Summer Pastures

The importance of managing summer pastures and what factors influence profit during the summer months will be the focus of the next meeting of the Sutherland Monitor Farm on Wednesday 6th June.

At the meeting, which will begin at Brora Golf Club at 10.30am, Trevor Cook, a vet and grassland consultant, will share his knowledge on how livestock farmers can best profit from pasture based systems. Mr Cook, who is from New Zealand, is one of the most respected consultants specialising in advising farmers on all aspects of production from grass based systems.

Trevor visited Clynelish Farm, the Sutherland Monitor farm, last September and suggested that husband and wife team Jason and Vic Ballantyne, who run the 125 hectare farm in Brora in partnership with Jason’s dad Murdo, try establishing a winter paddock grazing system for their sheep last winter.

However, following Mr Cook’s visit, the plans the couple had to establish the paddocks were halted due to the severe weather.

“We were completely waterlogged from the middle of October,” said Vic Ballantyne. “And half the farm was underwater during November, so any plans we had to establish winter paddock grazing had to be abandoned.”

Like lots of other farmers and crofters across Scotland this winter, the Ballantynes had to buy in extra feed for their stock this year.

"Our swede crop wasn't as good as hoped so we bought in an extra 51 tonnes. We also bought some bagged feed for the first time in ten years and a lot of extra silage, plus rented extra grazing, so it was a very expensive winter," said Jason Ballantyne.

“So we are keen to find ways to maximise our grazing this year to mitigate these costs and ensure we have more feed ready for this winter,” he added.

Although the Ballantynes were disappointed that they weren’t able to put their winter grazing plans into action, they are well placed to use more rotational grazing this year having installed eight extra water troughs and mains electric fencing across the farm.

They have also permanently split some fields and will split more this summer allowing them to better manage their grazing. The flock has already been split up into three groups of approximately 300 ewes plus followers on fields of three to five hectares and moved every three to five days.

Also, following previous advice from Trevor Cook, the Ballantynes got fertiliser on as soon as it was dry enough and saw the benefit in the resulting grass growth, which meant that they were able to turn their cows out on 27 April, just a few days later than usual.

"This means they are feeding themselves through most of lambing. A later outdoor calving means we don't have to do too much with them when we are busy with sheep" said Mr Ballantyne.

After lunch at the golf club, there will be a visit to nearby Clynelish Farm where the Ballantynes will provide an update on how lambing and calving has gone this year. Clynelish calve 70 cows outdoors from 5th May and carries a flock of 900 breeding ewes, of which about half are Lairg type Cheviots and the other half Lleyn cross, which currently lamb outdoors at the end of April.

“The lambs are looking good,” said Vic Ballantyne. “Although we had a lower than average scanning rate, probably due to the hard conditions this winter, we are very pleased that we have had hardly any losses post lambing.”

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 aim of the monitor farm programme is to help improve the productivity, profitability and sustainability of Scottish farm businesses.

The meeting at Clynelish Farm on Wednesday 6th June, is free to attend and open to all. It will begin at Brora Golf Club at 11am, with coffee and registration from 10.30am. Lunch is included.

Farmers interested in attending the next Sutherland Monitor farm meeting should confirm attendance with the facilitators Willie Budge or Cat MacGregor by phoning SAC Thurso on 01847 892602 or emailing FBSThurso@sac.co.uk

For more information about the monitor farm programme visit www.monitorfarms.co.uk