This week’s first meeting of the new Moray and Nairn monitor farm attracted a record attendance of around 130 farmers and representatives from the industry.
Cluny Farm, near Forres, is the latest monitor farm in the project and a landmark twenty-fifth in the history of the Scottish monitor farms programme, supported by Quality Meat Scotland, the Scottish Government and a record number of local industry sponsors with help from the NFUS.
Cluny is a 1060 acres (425ha), mixed, upland unit which runs 150 spring-calving and out wintered cows and 650 mostly Scotch Mule ewes. The farm also grows 150 acres of barley all retained on-farm as stock feed.
The business is run by Robbie Newlands in partnership with his wife, Kirsty, and father, also Robbie, The farm, appointed for three years, is supported by monitor farm facilitators, Peter Cook and Colin Anderson.
A SWOT analysis, looking it the farm’s Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats, was a crucial part of this week’s meeting.
“Lack of rust,” was one of the positive observations from other farmers on the day, reflecting the fact the farm is far from over-mechanised.
“Keeping things simple is one of our objectives in the way we run the business and that was something which people viewed as a real strength,” said Robbie Newlands (jnr).
Despite the business being clearly well run a number of potential weaknesses were identified including lack of shed space for housing stock. Particularly following the extreme weather conditions of the last winter, some asked if increasing indoor housing for stock, or simply for more feed storage, could be an opportunity for the farm.
“Another potential area of improvement which was identified was our lambing percentage which is lower than we would like.
“Where we’d like to be is around 180% but the reality is we are sticking at around 150%. We’re very keen to look at any changes which would allow us to improve on that but we are also very keen to go through the process of costing out with the group which route is most profitable,” Mr Newlands added.
A threat identified at this week’s meeting is the fact the Newlands are buying in all their replacement breeding heifers, leaving them open to bringing in disease.
“Overall I’d say we were surprised at how much we were in agreement with the observations made at the first meeting,” said Mr Newlands.
“We were expecting people to pick holes in what we were doing but we agreed with the weaknesses identified and were encouraged by the number of strengths in our current management system. We’re looking forward to starting to look at the options to introduce changes to maximise our strengths and improve on our weaknesses,” he added.
Peter Cook said the excellent turnout at the first meeting showed the strength of local recognition of the benefits for individuals from involvement in the monitor farm project.
“Those attending the meeting, and the Newlands themselves, flagged up a number of areas where we can look at potential improvements which is exactly what a monitor farm is about – there’s plenty to get our teeth into and the host family are enthusiastic and supportive,” said Mr Cook.
Among other areas which will be looked at in the months ahead are the costs of intensive finishing; cow breeds most suitable for a low labour system; cow life and barren rates; hay versus alternatives; risks of out-wintering; labour requirement in the ewe flock, reliance on subsidy and making better use of the natural environment
The next meeting of the Moray and Nairn Monitor Farm is scheduled for late July. Further information about the monitor farm programme, including facilitators’ contact details, is available by visiting www.qmscotland.co.uk