Willie Harcus from Quanterness Farm has improved both grass and livestock performance on his Orkney farm since adopting better grazing management over the last year.
Part of Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) Orkney Managed Grazing Group, Quanterness Farm has 370 Aberdeen Angus cows and 580 Shetland cross ewes along with cereals across 546 hectares.
Orkney Managed Grazing consists of six pioneering farmers based on Orkney and Shetland who are working with leading livestock industry experts to develop and implement a managed grazing system that is suited to the local grass growing conditions. The overall aim of the initiative is to increase the profitability of red meat production in Orkney through a peer-to-peer knowledge exchange network
Being part of the group has encouraged Willie to consider the changes he could make to increase margins. One of the new initiatives implemented at Quanterness is the introduction of rotational grazing.
Willie Harcus commented: “The previous system of set stocked grazing was always a bit of guess work as we would have great peaks and troughs when it came to grass growth. Spring growth was late and slow, and the summer was awash with grass. I had tried some paddocks in the past with some success, but it was never really explained that well.
“Being part of the QMS Orkney managed grazing group has given me the knowledge and confidence to introduce a rotational grazing system successfully across the whole farm and I now measure grass using a QMS sward stick and input figures into the quick and simple QMS grazing spreadsheet to work out feed budgets. Being part of the group has made me think seriously about the changes I could make to increase margins.”
In early March, Willie started 340 ewes onto a pre-lambing grazing rotation. The sheep are allocated enough grass every day, then moved to a new paddock each morning. On average ewes have been given 1.5 hectares a day but Willie will adjust this according to grass cover and how much they can utilise.
Willie commented: “We have cancelled out feed blocks and reduced our silage intake. The ewes are great to shift. It's enjoyable to go out each morning, drop the fence, give them a shout and then watch them flow over to the next fresh paddock. They are in great condition and very content. I was worried about wet field conditions, but It hasn't been an issue due to daily shifts.”
This spring group members have analysed fresh pasture samples. Quanterness results were above the group average. The results have given Willie confidence in what he is doing with the ewes as they are not receiving any supplementary feed.
Rotational grazing has had a positive impact on the business. Willie added:
“Over the winter and early spring we have saved £7,000 in feed. We have also bought 52 tonnes less fertiliser this year. The benefits are not just financial with young cattle getting turned out three weeks earlier which Is a huge labour saving at a busy time of the year.”
Willie commented: “I plan to increase cattle mob sizes this year which will reduce group numbers and simplify the electric fencing. I have found that one system doesn’t fit all so you must be flexible and adapt. I would encourage all farmers to try rotationally grazing one group of stock to experience the benefits for themselves.”
Download a free copy of the QMS Quick and Simple Grazing Planning spreadsheet by visiting https://www.qmscotland.co.uk/grazing