13th July 2016

Inverness Farmer sees Benefits of Optimised Grass Production

Beef and sheep farmer David Girvan is beginning to see the benefits of rotational grazing on his 3000ha unit near Drumnadrochit, Inverness and recently he shared his experiences with members of Quality Meat Scotland's North Grazing Group.

The majority of the land on Corrimony and Buntait farms is fairly unproductive hill rising to 2200 feet, so Mr Girvan has to make the most of his 200 or so hectares of in-bye grass and forage crops to feed his stock.

The farms carry 1100 Lleyn and Wiltshire Horn ewes plus they lamb 150 hoggs and 130 mostly Stabiliser cows and followers.  Mr Girvan plans to increase the sheep numbers over the next few years to around 1400 as a result of optimising grass production.

A member of QMS's north Grazing Group, which is based at Duncan Scott's farm at Tain, Mr Girvan feels he has learned a lot from the meetings and, for the last few years, has been putting some of the ideas into practice.

Keen to improve and better utilise his grass, Mr Girvan first tinkered with rotational grazing before joining the Grazing Group. He said: "I could see the benefits of it but found moving electric fences every day a lot of work and quite tedious. Since then I have upgraded the fencing and improved the infrastructure to make it easier."

In 2015 he divided a couple of smaller fields into five ha paddocks and this year he has split a 20ha field into four equal paddocks and has been impressed with how the grass has improved. He said: "I feel I have not quite mastered it yet, however I hope that after weaning I will see a big improvement in lamb live weight gains instead of the usual dip."

Last year his lambs averaged 30kg at weaning, representing a growth rate of 250g per day but it is the live weight gains after weaning which Mr Girvan really wants to focus on, and he is confident they will be better this year as he can already see that the grass is looking and performing better under a rotational system.

At the moment he is only rotational grazing at the home farm of Corrimony but once he starts to see results, he will invest in the infrastructure to develop the system at Buntait too. He is taking more silage under the system, has added 12 ha of root. crops and yet is keeping slightly more stock. His hope is that further improvement in his grazing management will enable him to increase stocking levels further.

The first graze is for sheep and if there is enough cover left on the field, then he follows up with cows and calves. He has another rotation for yearling heifers and Charolais cross steers and he is delighted that he is utilising grass better and keeping quality for longer with more green leaf.

Empty hoggs and dry ewes are turned out to the hill and Mr Girvan hopes that by better grass management, he should be able to keep some grass for the backend to flush them on. Current lambing percentages for the ewes average 160 to 170% with hoggs at 90%. Mr Girvan said: "Up until now we have lambed hoggs but I do not think there is any advantage in this for our farm because of the extra feeding involved and I plan to gimmer everything from this year."

All the lambs, not kept for replacements are finished on grass, stubble turnips and a hybrid kale/rape mix and sold to Dunbia at Elgin where they average 18.5kg deadweight and grade R3L. Mr Girvan is flexible when marketing his lambs and, if the store price is good, some will be sold through the market. Most are away by Christmas.

A big fan of Stabiliser cattle, most of the cows are bred back to Stabiliser bulls, although a Charolais is put over cows which he does not want to keep replacements from. Bull calves are kept entire and finished at 13 to 14 months through the Stabiliser Group to Woodhead Brothers where they average 340kg and R4L.

He has developed a market locally for surplus Stabiliser heifers and said: "They suit this area as they are easy to keep, put on a lot of condition in the summer which sees them through a winter on the hill and seldom need assistance calving. I like the science behind the breed."

One of the benefits of being part of a grazing group is the ability to share information and experiences. Following feedback from other grazing group members Mr Girvan's is considering increasing the length of his rotation. He was coming back to a paddock after 14 days, however now he knows the likely grass growth in that time period, he realises that he may need to extend the rotation to 20 days and perhaps take in another field to help him do this, or reduce the number of cattle in the group.

Michael Blanche, Knowledge Transfer Specialist with QMS explained that the objective for this round of grazing group meetings was to gain insight into the practical implementation of rotational grazing.

He said: "David really thinks about his enterprises.  He is getting to grips with the principles of rotational grazing and he is benefitting through increased output and reduced costs as he implements the principles.”

For further information about the grazing group project click here

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