John Gordon is the fourth generation of the Gordon family to farm the 500 ha (1235 acre) unit, which rises to 365 metres (1200 feet), with the steading at 200 metres (650 feet).
The farm runs 850 Scotch and English Mule ewes and 220 mainly Limousin cross cows, with prime lambs and Charolais cross yearlings sold.
“Almost 30 years ago, my late father (Ian Gordon) planted a total of eight acres (3.25 has) of Sitka Spruce, in ‘Mohican’ strips across the hill, to give some protection to the sheep,” explained Mr Gordon.
“He worked out where the trees would provide the most benefit on the better land. As the trees matured, they’ve been a great help, particularly these last two winters, with fierce storms blowing in from the north and east,” said Mr Gordon.
Lambing at Wellhead starts on 26th March with the lambs born indoors and turned out as quickly as possible, with the shelter belts providing great protection for ewes with young lambs.
“There’s a great deal of concern on sheep farms as to how many lambs will actually be born this spring, with the fear that many will have been re-absorbed as a result of ewes struggling with the weather.
“When storms were forecast, we moved the ewes to the leeward sides of the shelter belts and there’s no doubt that they’ve retained their body condition far better than if they had been more exposed to the weather,” added Mr Gordon.
Appreciating that the dark, dense, sharp angled shelter belts stand out starkly against the landscape, in recent years John Gordon has planted a diverse and colourful range of hardwood and native deciduous trees on the farm, plus 1200 metres (over 1300 yards) of blackthorn and hawthorn hedges. Woodland at Wellheads now occupies approximately 20 has (50 acres).
“With the future in mind, we’ve planted a mixture, with softer plantation edges, which sit more naturally with the landscape, alongside the Sitka Spruce belts. We’ve also planted trees in awkward or un-productive areas around the farm, to grow something useful on these pieces of land.
“Wherever possible, we’ve linked the plantings, to create habitats and corridors for wildlife, and there are certainly more song birds, particularly sky larks around. We’ve also noticed a healthy increase in game birds,” he said.
The Gordons intend to plant more shelter for the stock, but are frustrated that they don’t have any suitable, easily accessible ground for out-wintering cattle using trees for shelter.
“Perhaps wood chips could help to reduce our astronomic straw bill!” said Mr Gordon. “Some of the spruce are possibly ready for felling or thinning, and while they weren’t planted as a cash crop, it will be good to discuss money-making options at the Livestock and Woodland Focus meetings”.
With the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheduled for introduction in April this year one of the Focus Meeting topics will be wood as a fuel, to sell and/or use.
“As a Livestock and Woodland Focus Farm we’re glad of the opportunity to get advice on how to make the most of the more mature trees and discover what other things we can do with trees to help make our livestock farming easier and more economic, while at the same time, enhancing the environment along with the visual appeal and amenity value of the farm.
“My farming has really benefitted from the shelter belts my father planted. Our 16 year old son Ewan is keen to farm, so I’m eager to follow my father’s example and create a valuable and lasting benefit, to pass on to him.”
Forestry Commission Scotland Director, Dr Bob McIntosh, said: “This is an excellent example of how trees can be integrated into a working farm to deliver short-term and long-term benefits.
“As well as being used as a shelter belt to help livestock retain their health and vigour, trees can, of course, double up as a fuel source or as a cash crop.
“We believe that there are real benefits for farmers in planting trees – and focus farms like these will help to spread the word.”
Peter Beattie, Industry Development manager for QMS said: “This collaboration between QMS and FCS aims to explore how the economic opportunities of woodland can be maximised.
“These meetings, taking part around the country, are offering the opportunity to view real-life examples of managed woodlands and discuss with the farmers and specialists the successes and challenges of combining forestry with stock keeping.”
The First Grampian Livestock and Woodland Focus Farm meeting will be held on Wednesday 19th January at Wellheads at 1.30pm. All welcome. The
For further information please contact SAC facilitator Simon Jacyna tel 01343 548787 or visit www.monitorfarms.co.uk