The initiative, aimed at helping Scottish livestock farmers fully realise the economic and environmental potential of their woodlands, has been launched by Quality Meat Scotland and the Forestry Commission Scotland.
Seven new Livestock and Woodland Focus Farms have been selected in the Forestry Commission conservancy areas of Grampian, Argyll and Perthshire and South Scotland and each area will have a series of open days. The first open day took place at Bolfracks Estate, Aberfeldy, Perthshire courtesy of Athel Price who is well known for his innovative approach to woodland management.
Around 25 farmers and foresters gathered at Bolfracks, which has a farming enterprise of around 1,200 Scotch Mule x Texel ewes and 75 spring calving Saler cows, crossed with Limousin and Belgian Blue bulls. The 4000 acre organic estate, which includes a large area of forestry, has two staff members, and extends to 1500 feet above sea level.
Among the topics of main interest according to the facilitator, SAC's Simon Jacyna, was the estate's use of woodchip bedding as an effective and low cost alternative to straw for winter housing cows.
Visitors were also shown a covered sheep handling area that uses woodchips successfully as flooring material.
Simon said: "The total cost of overwintering the cows is under £300/year which compares more than favourably with the cost of straw. The group also discussed the opportunities which will be offered by the Renewable Heat Initiative due to be launched next summer. Under this scheme a three hectare woodland could potentially provide a permanent wood fuel source for a three bedroomed house.
“The visiting farmers and foresters experienced the benefits of shelter belts on a cold November morning, offering animals valuable shelter in the winter and cooling shade in the summer.”
The next meeting at Bolfracks takes place on Dec 15th.
The initiative is also looking at technical issues such as the potential animal health benefits of putting woodland barriers between neighbouring stock.
Examples of this will be available to view at the first meeting of the focus farm in Morayshire at Colin Campbell's farm Easter Bauds near Lhanbryde in Moray on 17th November at 10:30a.m. Careful woodland and grazing management allows Mr Campbell to outwinter his 64 Simmental cross Aberdeen Angus cattle and delivers health benefits.
"Compared with many other producers in the area Mr Campbell's system has a very low incidence of pneumonia. Visitors to the farm next week will also view the benefits of planting of hedges between fences on shared boundaries. This system ensures a three metre gap between the two properties preventing cattle from touching noses and spreading disease," said Simon.
Peter Beattie, technical projects manager for QMS said: “The topics raised so far are highly relevant to farmers in the current climate and show how woodland and farming can be integrated to the benefit of both.
“Everyone behind this new initiative hopes this level of engagement continues with the other farms to ensure as many producers as possible benefit from this new project.”
The first meeting of the focus farm in Morayshire at Colin Campbell's farm Easter Bauds near Lhanbryde in Moray on 17th November at 10:30a.m.
The first meeting in South Scotland will be at Easter Howgate Farm, at Bush, on Wednesday 1st December at 10:30 a.m.
Full details of the other farms and the meeting dates can now be found on the Monitor Farms website www.monitorfarms.co.uk