22nd November 2012

First Clyde Monitor Farm Meeting Attracts Large Attendance

Around 75 farmers and others from the agricultural industry attended the first Clyde Monitor Farm meeting when the cattle handling and weighing facilities proved of particular interest.

Attendees were shown a varied range of enterprises by the monitor farmer Andrew Baillie, who farms the 650 acre Carstairs Mains in South Lanarkshire. The farm, which has a network of access tracks, is bounded to the north by a railway line and by the River Clyde to the south.

Andrew Baillie moved to Carstairs Mains two and a half years ago, with only a small single farm payment entitlement, purchased for land he had previously rented while building up his farming business.

The farmed land is split almost 50/50 between crops and grass – with 212 acres of spring barley, 13 acres of winter wheat and 17 acres of fodder beet, which is grown as a break crop and mainly sold. Grazing totals around 270 acres, including 12 acres of chicory. The remaining 150 plus acres are either mature woodland or unutilised bog.

The versatile farm steading includes a sizeable range of solidly constructed older buildings along with more modern, large, airy sheds.

Both the cattle and sheep ventures are broken into a number of enterprises, targeting a range of markets.

The spring calving herd of 75, Johne’s Accredited suckler cows are mainly continental crosses, with some Hereford crosses. The herd is closed, except for bulls, which are British Blue and Limousin. Replacement heifers, aimed to calve at two years old, are synchronised and artificially inseminated with Limousin semen.

Heifers which are not retained are sold store with bull calves kept entire and finished for sale to Scotbeef at Bridge of Allan at 12 to 14 months of age.

Approximately 120 dairy bull calves are purchased annually from two local dairy herds, at around 10 weeks of age. As with the home-bred bulls, these are finished on an ad-lib home-mixed ration with straw. The majority go to Scotbeef, with the remainder sold locally for rose veal.

All finishing bulls are electronically identified and weighed fortnightly to monitor individual performance. To enable him to carry out the regular cattle weighing, single handed if necessary, Mr Baillie has constructed a curved, half circle, solid-sided cattle handling facility, which includes a hydraulic squeeze crush with a weigh cell.

Once an animal enters the crush, a computerised electronic tag reader, linked to the weigh cell, displays the animal’s daily liveweight gain on the detachable panel positioned on the crush.

“To meet specification, the bulls must kill out at a minimum carcase weight of 250 kgs,” said Mr Baillie. “If bulls have achieved their target liveweight, but are still gaining around 1.5 kgs per day, they’re clearly converting efficiently, so it’s worth keeping them longer. But if a bull’s liveweight gain is tailing off, as long as he’ll hit 250 kgs deadweight, he’s ready to go!

“Regular weighing also promptly alerts me to any individuals which aren’t performing as they should, which flags up a problem much earlier than if I was just routinely checking over a pen of young bulls.”

Ewe numbers total approximately 230, the majority of which are pedigree – 100 Beltex and 50 Texels. Any pedigree lambs not selected for replacements or for sale for breeding as shearlings or gimmers, are finished and sold to a local farm shop.

The commercials include 40 Beltex cross Texels, which are aimed to produce lambs with show potential. Many of the remainder - a mix of continental crosses - are used as recipients for embryos flushed from Mr Baillie’s best pedigree females, or crossed with Beltex tups to produce commercial finishing lambs.

As a rugby playing youngster, Mr Baillie had worked for six months on a New Zealand beef and sheep farm, during which time he attended some monitor farm meetings, which had left a good impression.

However, when he was asked at the time if there were any monitor farms in Scotland, he recalled replying “What? A Scottish farmer opening up his farm for all his neighbours to come in and have a good look round? No chance!”

The next Clyde monitor farm meeting will be held on Wednesday December 19th.

For general information on monitor farms, plus detailed reports of meetings visit www.qmscotland.co.uk/monitorfarms

Pic caption: Andrew Baillie demonstrating the hydraulic operation of the cattle crush.

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