20th March 2014

Perthshire Couple Focus on Maximising Profit from Grass

Achieving high performance from a lowground sheep system has been the secret of the success of start-up farming couple, Emily and Malcolm Grant at Coldrochie Farm, Redgorton on the outskirts of Perth.

With Malcolm having taken an earlier decision not to return to his family farm in Inverness-shire, the couple managed to buy 30ha of bare land from Strathord Estates in 2001 and rent a further 14ha of seasonal grass every year for their flock of 260 Texel cross ewes and 80 hoggs.  They have built a house and shed on the land, however Emily pointed out they do not have enough land from which to make a living and the couple both work full time.

Mr Grant works in renewables with SSE and Mrs Grant has a job with SNH in their Agricultural Policy department. She said, “I am lucky that the office is so close to home, I can go back to the farm every lunch time and keep an eye on things.”

It was the need to maximise profit from grass and keep the winter workload low which led the Grants to choose the Texel breed with its comprehensive Estimated Breeding Values (EBVs).

Mrs Grant said: “We started out with Texel cross Cheviots but the flock is now nearly pure Texel. We select rams on the EBVs that suit our system -  eight week growth rate EBV, positive backfat, lambing ease and faecal egg count - and we are pleased with the performance in recent years which suits our low maintenance system of finishing from forage.” She added, “One of the reasons for concentrating on the eight week growth rate is that it reflects the milking ability of the ewe too.”

The Grants are part of the Perth and Angus Business Improvement Group (BIG), one of a network of BIGs funded by Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) and Scottish Government’s Skills Development Scheme. The group, run by facilitator Peter Cook, has encouraged them to analyse performance both physically and financially and compare to other members of the group.

Mrs Grant feels the small group size and on-farm sessions are of real value. “Everyone in the group has been really open about their businesses.  Within our businesses we all do some things really well but, equally, there are always areas where we can improve.  Sharing information allows us to identify the areas where we can improve and learn from others.  Our group is a really good mix of highly innovative farmers - it's like having a group of specialists on your farm at once. There are always some great thoughts and ideas up for discussion.”

Mrs Grant has embraced the use of EID and uses it to select the best ewes for replacements but being part of the BIG has encouraged her to analyse important traits such as liveweight gain and speed of finishing. The top 25% of the Texel lambs are achieving liveweight gains of over 400g/day and are finishing at 12 weeks, while the majority (three-quarters) are sold at around 16 weeks and they are all away off grass by October.

Lambs are sold through the Highland Glen Producers Group which provides good feedback on weights and grades, with the majority of the lambs grading U3L with a few E3Ls among them. In 2013 the couple won the Highland Glen Producers performance award for having the highest proportion of lambs in the specification throughout the year – over 98%.

Peter Cook has calculated that getting high lamb growth rates and finishing fast off grass may give £12/ewe more margin than winter finishing even if there is a good price rise.  If there is no rise in lamb prices, grass finishing gives over £40 per ewe more margin. At 480 kg/ha the Grants achieve the highest level of liveweight production from grass within the Perth and Angus BIG.  “We do this without nitrogen fertiliser or creep feeding which amounts to big cost savings,” observed Mrs Grant.

Careful grass management is critical to the enterprise with most of the farm down to a white clover mix. However they also re-seed red clover leys for silage, which is safe to feed the ewes from six weeks after tupping. They finish their cast ewes on the aftermath in September and Mrs Grant said: “Another reason for focussing on the Texel is the value of cast ewes. We sell them at UA and last year they were making £90 to £100 per head.”

 Last year they sowed some chicory and plantain but it is too early for any results yet. The Grants hope the chicory, with its deep rooting system will help to improve the soil structure and biological activity and provide some anthelmintic benefit while plantain should help rumen function.

By growing quality silage, the aim is to feed as little concentrate as possible. Emily said: “We analyse the silage and condition score the ewes so we know exactly how much extra they require. However last year’s late spring left us with a much higher feed bill than usual as we had finished our silage stocks just after lambing and had to feed concentrate until the grass finally arrived.”

The ewes lamb outdoors from the third week in March and the lambing percentage is 158 to 160% lambs sold. While Emily is happy with the performance of the lambs, she would like a few more lambs, although not triplets because of the extra work involved. She uses EID to help her select replacements from ewes which have produced twins unassisted and feels this will be the focus of the enterprise in coming years.

 Being part of the BIG has encouraged the couple to analyse and question everything they do on their farm, to set targets and discover how best to achieve them or why they are not achieving them with the support of Peter Cook and the rest of the farmers in the group.

For further press information, please contact Carol McLaren, Head of Communications, QMS on 0131 472 4112 or mobile: 07739 900653 email: cmclaren@qmscotland.co.uk www.qmscotland.co.uk

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