17th October 2011

Monitor Farm Increasing Hill Sheep Options on the Isle of Mull

Improvements to the productivity of in-bye land by the Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) Isle of Mull Monitor Farmer, Iain MacKay, has created options to add value to his hill sheep enterprise on the 7,600 acre Torloisk, located on the island’s west coast. 

Mr MacKay has a five year Short Limited Duration Tenancy on this rugged and extensive unit, which has a range of land types, including steep cliffs, high moorland and rocky outcrops. There are approximately 380 acres below the hill dyke, where some of the land is ploughable, while other areas are quite marginal. 

Prior to becoming the tenant, Mr MacKay had contract farmed Torloisk since 2004, developing his flock of 850 ewes – 400 Scottish Blackfaces, 400 Cheviot X Blackface and 50 stud stock Cheviots. There is also a herd of 50 Highland cattle. 

The work is done mainly by Mr MacKay, with help from his veterinary surgeon wife Helen, plus contractors for silage and gathering. 

A new entrant, Mr MacKay has only been able to afford a small Single Farm Payment entitlement. 

At the recent Monitor Farm meeting he told the community group that he wanted to “increase efficiency and profitability, while developing a simple and easily managed system, with reduced reliance on subsidies and purchased feed and fertiliser.” 

Currently the large majority of the lambs are sold store. This year 50 surplus breeding hoggs were also traded. 

Lambing percentage for 2010 (lambs sold), was 78%, which is good for Mull. This year, thanks to good lambing weather, it should increase to around 87%. 

To build additional sale and value-adding options into his farming, Mr MacKay had identified three areas of cultivatable in-bye land within a deer fence (a must-have to protect grazing in this part of Mull) for improvement. 

A total of just over 16 acres had either been over-sown, fully re-seeded after a forage crop or ploughed and forage crops sown. 

All seed is supplied by Watson Seeds of East Lothian. 

A bespoke mix including clover and Timothy had been over-sown after harrowing, on 8.6 acres, considerably improving the feed value of the grazing. 

The three acre full re-seed, a mix of Mingary, clover and Westerwolds, sown in June, had cost (fuel, seed and fertiliser) an estimated total of £519.00 (£173/acre).

However, the inclusion of Westerwolds in the mix had already enabled Mr MacKay to make 15 large bales of silage. “Valued at just £20 per bale (all feed “imported into Mull is inflated by transport costs),

the silage has already recouped more than half the cost of establishing the grass, which should last for at least five years”, explained Mr MacKay. 

Forage crops had been sown on 4.5 acres. Four acres – a mix of Stygo fodder rape and Samson stubble turnips and the remaining half acre, Swift, a hybrid kale/rape. Total cost - £350 (£78 per acre). 

SAC Sheep Specialist John Vipond told the group that “in feed value the crop is worth the equivalent of 8.2 tons of concentrates. At the current price of £300 per ton – a total of £2,460 worth of feed. Even at just 50% utilisation, it’s still worth £1,230, three and a half times the cost of establishment.” 

These three improved areas are ready for use. The community group offered numerous suggestions as to how best utilise the additional feed. 

The over-sow needed grazing or cutting for winter feed. It was strong enough to take cattle as well as sheep. 

The re-seed would be damaged by cattle, but would be ideal for sheep. 

His forage crops offered the opportunity to finish some of the heaviest remaining lambs (the rumen of lambs under 25 kgs cannot cope with these crops). 

The group agreed that the general improvement of this in-bye land offered some exciting opportunities, including the lifting of fertility, thanks to better flushing of ewes. 

They also suggested keeping around 150 of the Blackface and Cheviot cross draft ewes on the improved in-bye, and crossing them with Performance Recorded Lleyn or Texel tups, with high Estimated Breeding Values (EBVs) for 21 week weight, growth and vigour. 

This project would yield the options of either selling ewes with lambs at foot, selling fleshier, well grown store lambs or providing meatier lambs for finishing on forage crops. 

QMS Chairman, Jim McLaren, attending his first Monitor Farm meeting, congratulated Mr MacKay on his work. “This is excellent utilisation of land. By creating the option of finishing your lambs off rape, you’re speeding up the route to market. You’re also improving the land, with, as you’ve shown in the re-seeded grassland, benefit in the second and subsequent years”.

 The next meeting will be on 20 October, when suckler cow profitability and fertility will be discussed.

Full details from Joint Facilitators:-

NIALL CAMPBELL, Email:- niall.campbell@sac.co.uk or

DONALD MacKINNON, Email:- donald.mackinnon@sac.co.uk

Telephone for both – 01631 563093. 

For general information on Monitor Farms, plus detailed reports of meetings – www.qmscotland.co.uk/monitorfarms

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