A farmer from Caithness will highlight how he hopes to improve the margins of his business at a free meeting for fellow farmers on his farm on Tuesday 2 December.
Ranald Pottinger, from Isauld Farm about 10 miles west of Thurso, is keen to identify more ways to increase efficiency and profitability with an anticipated reduction in Single Farm Payment (SFP) next year.
The Pottinger family's 700 acre unit is run by Ranald, his father Tom and brother Duncan who will host the furthest north mainland Planning for Profit meeting on Tuesday 2nd December. Visitors to the farm will discover how out-wintering cows and feeding a Total Mixed Ration (TMR) based on home-grown feeds is achieving good results.
Planning for Profit is an initiative aimed at assisting cattle, sheep and mixed arable farmers to make decisions that will ensure they are well placed to operate profitably. The initiative is supported by the Scottish Government Skills Development Scheme, Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) and NFUS, and delivered by SAOS, SAC Consulting and 2 Mennie Cooks. Meetings are being held all over Scotland and this one has been facilitated by Jim Booth of SAOS.
In 2008 the decision was made to change from a traditional cross suckler cow herd and finishing unit to pure Aberdeen Angus females with an aim of breeding bulls and increasing margins by reducing inputs. There are now 140 pure-bred cows on the farm with the plan to increase to about 200.
Ranald Pottinger said: "Ninety per cent of the cows are out-wintered so it was important for me to find easy-fleshing and easy-calving cows which thrive in these conditions." He also keeps a few cross cows as embryo recipients and has recently started a small herd of pedigree Limousins with three foundation cows.
Part of the grassland on the farm is free-draining links land next to the sea, which is ideal for outwintering cows. Mr Pottinger said: "The Angus do well on a diet of silage, straw and hay with some minerals over the winter months. In fact the cows get no hard feeding at all after their first winter as yearling heifers."
Heifers retained for breeding calve down at two-years-old and are selected from the best cow families for growth rates and fleshing ability. The remainder are either sold for breeding or finished at around 18 to 20 months when they scale around 300 to 350kg deadweight.
The bull calves from the all spring-calving herd are kept entire with 15 to 20 kept for selling as breeding bulls and the rest finished. They are sold when they are 14 to 15 months old and average 400kg deadweight. The vast majority of them are U grades.
Mr Pottinger believes his success in producing high growth rates and a consistently good product is partly due to genetics and partly due to the TMR which is based on home-grown oats, barley, silage, oat straw and a little bit of bought in sugar beet, draff, soya and minerals. They are fed from a Keenan feeder once a day.
Robert Gilchrist, knowledge transfer specialist with QMS pointed out that the Pottingers have achieved some fantastic growth rates of over 2kg per head per day from October to March on this ration.
The farm has also had some success in selling breeding bulls. The majority are sold privately from home but one of the highlights in the herd's short lifespan so far was selling Isauld Blackhawk by Galawater Lord Randolph out of Dalmore Black Lily for 9000gns on only his second trip to Stirling in February of this year.
Mr Pottinger believes that genetics have a large part to play in producing the right kind of animal, whether it be a bull for breeding or finishing or a female for breeding and he said that he was lucky to be able to buy his foundation cows from the Dalmore dispersal. It is some of these cows which have proved themselves in the herd which have now been selected for the embryo transfer programme. The herd is now almost completely closed and is part of the HiHealth Herdcare health scheme; therefore the plan is to use ET to increase his pedigree Limousin herd too.
The Pottingers are looking forward to the Planning For Profit meeting next week, which is expected to attract around 30 to 40 visitors. The hope is to get some feedback from the attendees about how they are responding to the changes in the CAP and how he can further improve his own production efficiency to counteract the expected drop in SFP in 2015.
To register to attend the Planning For Profit meeting and find out more about the Pottingers unit at Isauld on Tuesday 2nd December at 1pm please contact Kirsty at QMS on 0131 4724040 or email firstname.lastname@example.org