Over 70 people attended the first meeting of Scotland’s new organic monitor Farm, appointed by the Scottish Organic Producers Association (SOPA) and Quality Meat Scotland (QMS).
The Cooper family, who farm at Mains of Thornton near Inverurie, Aberdeenshire welcomed the large crowd to Friday's meeting.
Their 900 acre mixed farm has been fully organic for two years and has a herd of 102 Limousin and Aberdeen-Angus cross cows, put to Aberdeen Angus and Black Limousin bulls, plus a flock of 720 breeding ewes. All progeny, other than replacements, are finished, along with approximately 1,000 purchased store lambs and 50 plus store cattle – all organic. The farm is self-sufficient in grain and forage.
A recently constructed roundhouse for housing cattle was eagerly inspected by the visiting farmers.
“Our decision to convert to organic meant that we needed additional housing to enable us to finish cattle,” explained Kenny Cooper. “We opted to construct a roundhouse which with its excellent ventilation, fitted well with organic principles. It was completed last year, and currently houses 135 growing and finishing cattle.”
Over the next three years of the monitor farm term, the community group will have the opportunity to address a number of specific issues for the Coopers.
The herd is BVD (Bovine Viral Diarrhoea) Accredited and Johne’s Monitored under the SAC Premium Cattle Health Scheme.
“Obviously we’re keen to increase the productivity and efficiency of our livestock, both sheep and cattle”, said Leslie Cooper, Kenny’s brother. “We’re hoping that the lowered pneumonia incidence, thanks to the well ventilated environment in the open-sided roundhouse, and the recent purchase of a TMR (Total Mixed Ration) diet feeder, will help to reduce the cattle finishing time.”
The first lambing batch of 300 ewes will start lambing on 1st February, having scanned at 176%.
“We want to increase the number of lambs sold per ewe,” commented Kenny Cooper. “So this year we’ve scanned the ewes to help us establish where lambs are being lost. The lambing percentage will reveal whether or not lambs are being lost between scanning and lambing.
“Last spring the weather was hard on the young lambs, so this year we’re trying plastic coats on the lambs in the hope of improving survival rates.”
Community Group members will have the opportunity to help the Coopers choose the breed of bull to replace one of the Aberdeen Angus sires.
In addition to the home farm, the Coopers also have a 320 acre unit, approximately seven miles away. Here the land is currently conventionally farmed, also producing crops and livestock.
“The Group will be able to help us decide whether or not to convert this farm to organic,” added Kenny Cooper. “The number crunching will be interesting!”
As with the previous organic Monitor Farm (Balanloan in Perthshire), the Coopers have grown chicory, but they have sown it with plantain and red clover. Now in its third year, this 12 acre crop will shortly be ploughed.
“We’re told that chicory has a long tap root so we’re keen to see when we plough this field, whether or not the long root has broken through the soil pan,” said Kenny Cooper. “We’ve been so impressed with the chicory that we’ve included it in the seed mix for some four to five year leys on the non-organic farm.”
As with most livestock farms, the cost of straw bedding is an issue with the Coopers, who use 1,500 big bales per annum. “If the Community Group could come up with some workable suggestions which would help to cut down on straw usage, that would be great,” commented Leslie Cooper.
The next Monitor Farm meetings at Mains of Thornton are scheduled for 10th March; 16th June and 3rd November.
More information is available at www.monitorfarms.co.uk