THE final meeting of the Moray and Nairn monitor farm attracted over 120 farmers and others involved in the industry, almost exactly the same number as the initial meeting, held in June 2010.
Over the past three years, Robbie Newlands and his wife, Kirsty, and Robbie’s father, also Robbie, have hosted almost 20 meetings at Cluny Farm, a few miles south of Forres.
Cluny is a 1,060-acre (429 ha) upland LFA unit, which was the 25th monitor farm set up in the network run by Quality Meat Scotland. The farm features a mix of enterprises, including an out-wintered suckler herd of 180 breeding females, with bull calves kept entire and all progeny intensively finished. The lambs from the 650 head Scotch Mule flock are also finished.
Cropping for 2013 was 178 acres of spring barley, 26 acres of swedes and 25 acres of stubble turnips. Hay, haylage and silage was made from 113 acres.
The sole employee is Lesley Grant, who has worked at Cluny for just over three years.
Reflecting on the problems tackled and topics discussed, Robbie Newlands highlighted the meetings on liver fluke as some of the most significant.
“We had been disappointed with the performance of the lambs for a while,” explained Mr Newlands.
“And we’d assumed they were deficient in trace elements. However blood tests to confirm that our assumptions proved we were wrong, and in fact the main problem was liver fluke.
“Liver fluke never used to be a major concern in this area and, like most of the group, we’d regarded it as a problem in the wetter west. It seems that fluke may have been undermining lamb performance for some time. And while trace elements will always be an issue, we now routinely fluke our lambs and they’re clearly doing better.”
Mr Newlands had been intending to scan in-lamb ewes for some time. In his first monitor farm year, the community group persuaded him to take the plunge. They also advised turning out ewes with recently born lambs, in smaller groups.
“Scanning ensures a bit of extra feed can go to the triplet-carrying ewes. We also pen the single carrying ewes separately, allowing us to foster on spare triplet lambs,” said Mr Newlands.
These changes helped to increase the number of lambs sold in 2011 by 150, (the first scanned lambing year), compared to 2010, from five fewer ewes to the tup.
The biggest cattle discussion was on the Newlands’ intensive finishing of their mainly Charolais cross heifers. The 2011-born heifers average deadweight was 299 kgs at 421 days.
“The fluctuating barley price, particularly the couple of spikes in the last five years, really made us wonder if we should have changed our heifer system, by keeping them longer and summering them at grass,” explained Mr Newlands.
“A group member was operating both systems, indoor finishing and grazing. His willingness to share his figures and opinions confirmed that there was no significant benefit in changing what we were already doing.
“Without this information, we may have been tempted to change, which would have resulted in other adjustments needing to be made to our farming, to accommodate the heifer finishing changes.”
Mr Newlands added: “One of the many things we’ve learnt through this experience is that our practical farming must dovetail into our system and available facilities.
“When realistic figures, calculated in a uniform way, have been available from other farmers within the group, they’ve been really useful for enterprise benchmarking.
“And, along with the sharing of experience-based information, these have been amongst the major plus points of being a monitor farmer plus, of course, the social side, which is really important!”
He said the monitor farm experience has also made the family think more about why and how they do things.
“If I’ve thought that what I was doing was right, I was not prepared to let the group rail-road me into changing. But, I’ve had to think of reasons to justify why I’ve not been prepared to change.
“On the other hand, some of the small changes to what we had already been doing which have been suggested have been really valuable.”
A number of the community group members are keen to continue regular farm-based meetings to share and compare figures and discuss problems, including Alan Young of Bunchrew Farm, Inverness, a member of the monitor farm management committee.
“Nothing beats the farmer-to-farmer exchange of ideas, along with the benefits of technical information from experts who have spoken at meetings,” commented Mr Young.
“We’ve been inspired by hearing and seeing what others are doing. We may start off discussing one topic, but end up learning about something else. Being in a relaxed, informal setting, either on Robbie’s farm or in the village hall has enabled us to listen to everything, find out more about the topics which interest us and then select the bits which are useful, to take home.”
For general information on monitor farms, plus detailed reports of meetings visit www.qmscotland.co.uk/monitorfarms
Caption L-R: Robbie Newlands is joined by Ian Wilson, Highland regional manager, NFU Scotland.
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Contact: Claire Morrison