Over 60 farmers and agricultural industry associates attended the recent Clyde monitor farm open day where monitor farmer Andrew Baillie explained some of the changes implemented over the last 21 months and outlined plans for the future.
The first Clyde monitor farm meeting at Carstairs Mains in South Lanarkshire was in November 2012. This 650 acre (263 ha) unit is one of the network of Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) farms throughout Scotland.
When Mr Baillie and his young family moved to Carstairs Mains just over four years ago, he had just a small Single Farm Payment entitlement, purchased for land he had previously rented while building up his farming business.
This lack of support payment has honed Mr Baillie’s “if it doesn’t pay, it doesn’t stay” philosophy, while also fuelling his enthusiasm to consider and try new methods if they offer profit and/or efficiency boosting potential.
Approximately 515 acres of the land is farmed with the remaining area a mix of mature woodland and un-utilised bog. The farmed area is split almost 50/50 between grazing and crops - predominantly spring barley.
There is a recently reduced spring calving suckler herd, currently numbering 65 breeding females, with heifers, other than retained replacements, sold store. Male calves are kept entire and finished, along with approximately 120 dairy bulls which are purchased locally at around ten weeks old.
There are 300 breeding ewes, the majority of which are pedigree Beltex and Texel. All commercial lambs, plus a few pedigrees not suitable for breeding, are finished.
Chicory, along with clover and Timothy, was first grown by Mr Baillie in 2012. Lambs and pre-sale shearling tups grazed on this pasture in 2012 and 2013 thrived, encouraging Mr Baillie to run an on-farm trial with Dr Jos Houdijk of Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC), comparing chicory with conventional grass/clover.
“The chicory lambs out-performed the grass/clover lambs by 100 grammes a day,” commented Mr Baillie.
“Also, thanks to regular faecal egg counting, I was able to drop three doses of worm drench, saving a total of 60 pence per lamb, not including labour.”
Mr Baillie told the group that chicory tails off in its third year: “I’m now planting a field each year so I’ve always got two good fields and one not so good, to graze sheep on. This year I’ve planted three different mixes including one with crimson clover and another with plantain.
“I’ve been particularly impressed with the way my sale tups have performed on the chicory, despite not receiving any concentrates, which I’m told should boost their semen quality.”
Forage brassicas will also be on the future menus for Mr Baillie’s sheep and cattle following the growing of 25 acres of Redstart, a kale/rape hybrid brassica, in 2013.
Cows and calves were strip-grazed. Calves were weaned and housed in November, with cows staying on the brassicas, supplemented with straw and waterproof powdered minerals.
“The cost of over-wintering the cows on the brassicas was half of the cost of wintering them inside,” commented Mr Baillie. “Plus the cows spread the dung for us and were physically much fitter coming up to calving.
“Sheep block-grazed the brassicas from the other end, starting with lambs, followed by in-lamb, twin-bearing ewes. The lambs grew at 300 grammes per day, and the brassicas supplied all the ewes’ nutritional needs until the last couple of weeks before lambing.
“To prevent the crop from earthing the electric fencing, we make a break by tying a bag over a seeder spout when sowing.”
Rotational grazing of cows and calves was introduced in April 2014. A 16 acre field was sub-divided into four, four acre blocks. Cattle were moved every five/six days.
“We’ll certainly do this again!” stated Mr Baillie. “I was amazed how quickly the grass re-grows behind the stock and how well the cows and their calves have done on this system. We’ve also been able to increase stocking rate in this field from one cow and calf per acre to 1.5 cows plus calves.”
A smoke bomb test at the February 2013 meeting, in one of the cattle buildings, was promptly followed by the removal of roof ridging and some of the exterior wall panels. Mr Baillie told the group that this resulted in improved ventilation and a considerable reduction in pneumonia in the finishing bulls.
The next Clyde monitor farm meeting will be on 8th October. Topics will include sheep breeding systems and sheep wintering.
For more information, please contact either of the joint facilitators:
Grant Conchie, telephone: 01555 662562
Raymond Crerar, telephone: 01292 525458
For general information on Monitor Farms, plus detailed reports of meetings: www.qmscotland.co.uk/monitor-farms