18th March 2011

First Mull Monitor Farm Attracts Large Crowd

The first meeting of the newly appointed Mull monitor farm attracted around 45 farmers, crofters and others, including a number of farmers from the mainland.

Torloisk, run by Iain and Helen MacKay, is Mull’s first ever monitor farm, part of the programme run by Quality Meat Scotland.

A key component of the first meeting was a “SWOT analysis” of the business to identify its strengths and weaknesses as well as opportunities and threats to its efficiency and profitability.

The total area farmed by the MacKays is 3,100 hectares of which only five percent is inbye and grassland management is a key focus area.

The scope of the farm and the large land area available, along with the deferred grazing system operated, was identified as a strength of the unit. However, a major threat to grassland productivity is bracken and bracken control is likely to be a focus at a future meeting.

Torloisk runs a total of 850 ewes and gimmers and, while the overall lambing percentage for 2010 was considered good for this sort of extensive hill unit at 78%, there are at least 190 ewes running without lambs, viewed as a weakness.

“One management practice which Iain has successfully introduced is the use of mineral boluses, rather than adding minerals to feed, which has notably helped ewe condition and productivity,” said SAC’s Donald MacKinnon, joint facilitator.

The gross margin for the sheep flock, excluding support payments, is £4.54/head which, while positive, is still a marginal figure, observed joint facilitator, Niall Campbell of SAC.

The group also discussed whether better utilisation of the inbye ground and fields could result in heavier lambs and increased numbers of twins.

On the cattle side of the business, the calving period runs from January to May, with an 86% calving percentage in 2010. The 2010 gross margin for the suckler cows (excluding support payments) was £2.49/head with the forward stores gross margin (again excluding support payments) standing at -£87.77/head.

One possibility discussed by the community group was away wintering the cows to potentially save costs and time during winter. Another possibility discussed was the use of electric fencing, perhaps solar powered, to give flexibility and reduce the capital outlay for fencing compared with rylock.

The community group also voiced a number of key issues affecting their businesses which will be focus areas at forthcoming meetings. These include bracken control, ewe condition, animal health and reseeding.

Andy McGowan, Quality Meat Scotland’s Head of Industry Development, attended the meeting and said it was great to see such a strong turnout.

“The island’s farming community has really thrown its support behind the monitor farm and gave Torloisk a great start with a high standard of debate and good contribution from all.

“While it is very important that the meetings’ focus remains highly relevant to livestock farmers in the area, the Mull monitor farm may also provide an important role as a worked example of hill farming as we move into the next round of CAP reform,” said Mr McGowan.

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