The first meeting of the new Kintyre Monitor Farm was attended by around 60 local farmers, including one from the Isle of Islay.
The new monitor farmer, Duncan Macalister, owns the 1730 acre (700 has) Glenbarr Farms, situated on the west coast of the Kintyre peninsula, between Tarbert and Campbeltown. Two full time staff are employed.
The cattle enterprise is based on a herd of 140 predominantly spring-calving, mostly out-wintered Aberdeen-Angus cows, put to Aberdeen-Angus bulls.
Progeny, other than retained females which are calved at two years old, is finished, with the large majority sold deadweight to Scotbeef at Bridge of Allan. The local village shop, Glenbarr Stores, buys approximately six finished cattle a year for retail in vacuum packs.
The cows have a Blue Grey foundation, with home-bred replacements being retained since the first Aberdeen-Angus bulls were purchased in 1995.
Mr Macalister has selected bulls with high EBVs (Estimated Breeding Value) for growth. With a view to boosting milk in the herd, he has recently purchased a batch of Aberdeen-Angus cross Friesian heifers, which were calving at the time of the meeting.
Ewes total 600, half of which are Blackfaces which go to Lleyn tups with the other 300 either Greyface (out of the Blackfaces) or Lleyns, which go to Suffolk and Cheviot tups. All lambs, except replacement females, are finished, with most sold deadweight through Lawrie and Symington.
The land is fragmented, being three miles point-to-point and type ranges from hill to coastal shore. Over a third of the farm was planted with sitka spruce in 1999.
Just over 100 acres of barley is grown annually, with 30 – 40 acres cut for whole crop. The remainder is combined conventionally, prop-corned and used at Glenbarr. Yields peak at around 2.8 tons per acre.
Barley is continuously grown on the 40 acres of shore fields and combined for grain. The stubble is then used to out-winter cows so the fields are in use 365 days a year.
In his welcome, Duncan Macalister told the group that within days of returning to take over the family farm in October 1993, he had received a bank statement revealing an overdraft close to £200,000. “In the next month I received over £40,000 worth of additional bills,” he added.
The latter half of the 1990s brought major challenges to the Glenbarr cattle enterprise, starting in 1996, with the peak of the BSE crisis. “In 1997 we bought in BVD (Bovine Viral Diarrhoea) and lost 35 calves the first year, with another 25 the next,” he said. All cows are now routinely vaccinated for BVD.Between then and now, Mr Macalister has sold and bought land, as suitable nearby land has come available, built a shed, bought out family members and extended the family home. “I am constantly aiming to improve the asset value of the farm,” said Mr Macalister. “With the land I am trying to break up the soil pan as well as lift the pH. The trees, although not currently providing cash flow, should mature when I’m in my late 60’s, and the house extension has increased the house’s value by much more than the building work cost.”
And the debt he started with in 1993? “It’s bigger but having said that my debt to asset ratio is a lot better. Debt management is the background to a lot of things done here over the past 18 years, including planting the trees – at the time I could not afford to stock the hill,” explained Mr Macalister.
During the three year term as a monitor farm, part of Quality Meat Scotland’s national programme, Mr Macalister hopes the group will help him increase production and the asset value of his farm. He gave some specifics at the first meeting. “I want to find an ideal crossing cow which will out-winter, stand the weather and produce and rear a good calf every year.”
Another project for the group is get rid of the dockens. He said there are far too many of them and the only effective spray takes the clover as well.
“If this is the Golden Age of farming, let’s see just what this west coast of Scotland really can produce!” he added.
The next meeting of the Kintyre Monitor Farm will be held at the end of May/early June.
For further information, please contact either of the joint facilitators:
Alan Boulton telephone: 01397 708891email: email@example.com
Linda McLean telephone: 01586 820226 email: firstname.lastname@example.org
For general information on monitor farms, plus detailed reports of meetings:- www.qmscotland.co.uk/monitorfarms