10th December 2013

Maximising Output Per Acre is Profitability Key for Aberdeenshire Producer

Maximising output per acre of land, regardless of the enterprise, is the key to profitability on David Stephen’s mixed farm in Aberdeenshire.

Redhouse of Barra at Oldmeldrum is one of the case studies which is showcased in the QMS Planning for Profit roadshows taking place around the country in the coming weeks. Planning for Profit is an initiative aimed at assisting farmers to ensure their businesses are well-placed to operate profitably in the face of reduced support payments.

The initiative is supported by the Scottish Government’s Skills Development Scheme, Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) and NFU Scotland, and Mr Stephen spoke today at Lochter, Oldmeldrum.

He explained how he is aiming for whole farm efficiency by measuring and analysing inputs and outputs on each of his enterprises: cattle; sheep and soft fruit.

The farm totals 700 acres, with 100 acres of barley grown for home use and about 25 acres of strawberries and raspberries. Stocking consists of 230 Limousin and Simmental cross suckler cows and 1100 Highlander ewes.

David changed the ewe stock from Romneys to Highlanders about five or six years ago because he believed the New Zealand genetics would allow him to produce more lambs with less input. His flock is now a multiplier for Focus Genetics with surplus ewe lambs sold for breeding at a premium to the fat price. He is also using Primera rams as a terminal sire on some of the Highlanders he does not want to breed pure and has a small market for shearling rams.

He is delighted with the breed which is proving to be highly prolific and most importantly, easy-care. The flock includes 250 ewe hoggs which scanned at 120% in February and 100% at weaning. The ewes were about 165% lambs weaned.

“Even in the terrible spring we had this year, one person lambed all the ewes, including the hoggs, outside to achieve nearly 150% lambing. The mothering traits of the ewes and viability of the lambs is remarkable,” said Mr Stephen.

Ewes start lambing on April 18th with the first lambs sold on August 5th. By the end of November, only 10% of the lambs were left to sell, with everything else finished off grass and sold to Woodhead Brothers at an average of just over 20kg deadweight and 90% graded R3L or R3H.

One man also looks after the cattle with the herd split into 100 autumn and 130 spring calving to make full use of the facilities. Bull calves are kept entire and finished on a diet of silage, draff and home-grown barley treated with “maximum” to increase the protein. They average just under 400kg deadweight at 15 months and are sold to Woodhead Brothers and McIntosh Donald where the majority are U grades. Heifers not retained as replacements have another summer at grass and are finished at 18 to 20 months at 350kg.

Mr Stephen believes he has learned valuable lessons in measuring productivity through the intensity of growing soft fruit. He said: “I have learned from my soft fruit enterprise that intricate measuring of every input and output on a ‘per plant or per meter’ basis lets me see exactly how it is performing.”

He has adopted that level of detail on his sheep and cattle units too. For example, he measures the weight of lamb per acre, so he knows whether that acre is productive. He also makes comparisons between the three enterprises to work out which is the most efficient and profitable.

“My ethos for the whole farm is to maximise the kilos of beef, lamb and fruit sold off the farm annually while minimising inputs,” he said.

He pigeonholes each cost and has worked out one area which could be improved is the cattle where 35% of the cost of production, even with only one man, is still labour. His plan therefore is to increase cattle numbers to the maximum that one man can handle to increase production and reduce the cost per unit. He plans something similar with the sheep and reckons there is potential to increase numbers by 400 ewes but he warned that it was crucial to have the right type of stock and the right system in place for this to work.

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