9th July 2014

Aboyne Couple Aim to Increase Profitability by Maximising Kilos Produced from Grass

The first meeting of a series of new Grazing Groups, set up by Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) took place in Aberdeenshire today (July 9th) at Ahren and Louise Urquhart's Maryfield Farm on the banks of the Dee at Aboyne.

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.

The Urquharts are new-start farmers who took over the tenancy of the 100 hectare farm in February 2013. Making the most of natural resources is a clear priority for them as money is tight with single farm payment.

The farm is mainly grass except for about 9ha of rape and kale for finishing lambs. They have stocked it with 520 Mule, Cheviot and Cheviot Mule ewes and are finishing all the progeny which are sold through United Auctions at Huntly, Aberdeen and Northern Marts at Thainstone and McIntosh Donald. The first of this year’s crop of lambs are just being sold off grass now, with the couple aiming for 40 to 42kg liveweight.

Mrs Urquhart said that the lambing percentage at around 140% was lower than she would have liked but the high proportion of gimmers could be a factor. They lambed around 250 gimmers inside in March and the remainder of the flock outside in late April.

Ahren and Louise have been looking forward to the first Grazing Group meeting and to hearing what other farmers and experts have to say about their enterprise. Mrs Urquhart said: "This is a new farm to us with new challenges, although we have worked on our family farms. I think having some fresh eyes looking at our farm will be very useful."

Much of the grass at Maryfield is old and in need of re-seeding as the property was traditionally let as seasonal grass and the Urquharts are keen to get advice on the best varieties to grow on the soil types on their farm. As Maryfield runs down to the Dee, some of the land is quite light and stony but gets heavier further away from the river. It is however all quite free-draining.

Michael Blanche, QMS Knowledge Transfer Specialist, 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 Aberdeenshire on Wednesday.

Mr Blanche is passionate about grass and believes that the potential of many of the host farmers will be greater than they realise but the key for the first meetings is to get some benchmarks in place. The most important of these is: total liveweight kg sold (lambs and cattle and cull cows and cull ewes) minus total liveweight purchased (replacements and stores). This figure can then be divided by the total hectares of the farm that support livestock.

He said: "Very importantly the benchmark is not about comparing with everyone else but with each host farm individually. It's a line in the sand so that they know where they are."

Over the three years of the project the Groups will be looking at all aspects of grass growing and livestock production including feed budgeting at grass and measuring actual grass growth along with soil analysis. Mr Blanche insists that being a good grazier is as great a skill as being a good stockman.

He said the most important aspect of the Groups is to set and stick to the overall objective which is "to increase the kilos of meat produced per hectare through better utilisation of grass."

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

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