The Scott family has focused on making its sheep enterprise leaner and more efficient with help from Scotland’s Monitor Farms initiative. Carol McLaren reports
A big shift in sheep management at Fearn means the Scott family will outwinter its 620 commercial ewes for the first time in 20 years.
The move is aimed at streamlining its sheep enterprise which, until this year, was the most profitable part of the farm business.
The decision was taken with other members of Scotland’s Monitor Farms project and a meeting will be held this month to finalise the plan. The Scotts have yet to be convinced it is the right strategy long-term, but they are keen to try it for a year.
“Having the ewes inside is labour-intensive. There’s a lot of bedding work and all the feed has to be bagged. This year we will probably feed using the snacker and this should allow us to feed the sheep in less time at lower cost,” says John.
He hopes that keeping the ewes outside for longer may also reduce disease, including sudden-death pneumonia in young lambs.
The Scotts usually clip all their housed ewes at the start of the year, but this year the sheep will not be shorn until June. “This year, as they will have 15 months’ worth of fleece, we will have to make a conscious decision to handle the sheep more regularly to make sure their condition is right,” Mr Scott says.
Ewes’ winter ration will be based on silage, which is abundant this year. In-lamb ewes will run on grass until the New Year and then on tostubbles, or grass before it is ploughed, before housing in late February.
“Last year we scored lambings from one to five – one being easy, two with a little assistance, three requiring more time, four a lot of work and five needing the vet. Four and five are black-tagged for culling. We have culled out a lot of sheep this year and we will be hard again next year. If we treat footrot problems twice, sheep are also black-tagged for culling,” he says.
About 500 lambs have still to be sold. The bigger-framed are on stubble turnips, with the other 200 on grass regrowth after oilseed rape.
Mr Scott is determined to pull out all the stops to get lambs finished off grass earlier. Creep feeding some will be considered, with the aim of getting as many as possible ready to go from mid-June.
To date, all the lambs have gone to Mey Selections at spot price. “We are getting 200p/kg deadweight (based on a 21kg R3L carcass), which isn’t good, but it’s much better than 70p/kg liveweight through the ring,” Mr Scott says.
The business is waiting for £5200 from the Scottish government’s recently announced £19m aid package launched in the wake of this summer’s foot-and-mouth outbreaks and worth £6 a ewe. “This is welcome cash, but our lamb average is back from £51 a head to £41 a head, meaning we are down £10 a lamb year on year – the cheque we should receive works out about £4 a lamb,” says Mr Scott. “What would make a big difference to us is our single farm payment (worth about £100,000) coming early,” he says.
The Scotts also have 300 lambs on grass and stubble turnips on a fattening contract with Wellbeck Estates at 50p a head a week, which they see as a safer option than buying in lambs and avoiding the labour of handling.
Tups went out to the pedigree ewes on 10 October and the commercial flock on 19 October, so the pedigrees should start lambing about 6 March followed by the main flock shortly afterwards. With good tupping conditions, the Scotts hope both flocks will have lambed within three weeks.
And it is becoming evident that fresh young grass is outperforming old varieties, so Mr Scott plans to give all the older pastureland some attention as soon as the crop rotation allows.
“For various reasons we haven’t been refreshing grass as regularly as we should, but we are aiming now to get all the grass back into a regime of sheep and cattle year about, for five years then plough up,” he said.