Winter has arrived at Towiemore, and despite three days of sleet, snow and rain, stock are looking well.
Some cattle are still braving the weather, awaiting available shed space to come indoors.
“We’re going to clear out the fat cattle in the next couple of weeks, which will allow us to bring the remaining 80 in-calf heifers indoors,” says Graeme.
The finished beasts will be sold deadweight to Millers at Granttown.
“They’ve been quoting 212p/kg this week for 4H cattle, with 4Ls a couple of pence less,” says Colin.
“But in the last five weeks the finished cattle price has really begun to climb.
And with the seasonal demand from the butchers’ trade, they’re looking for finished cattle with a really good layer of back fat.”
The price recovery is welcome, but Graeme doesn’t believe it’s purely seasonal.
“The coverage of avian flu in the media has possibly pushed consumers away from poultry meat, and that’s sure to have helped the beef job a bit.”
Towiemore’s finished lambs have also sold well.
A recent batch met a flying trade at Thainstone auction, perhaps on the back of the three-day food production strike.
“But the strike’s effect seemed to be limited because it had been promoted so well, so supermarkets and abattoirs covered themselves,” says Graeme.
Nevertheless, the prices Towiemore’s lambs have achieved are encouraging.
Thainstone saw 44.5kg lambs realise 52.50, while another batch, sold deadweight to Kepak at Preston, achieved 227p/kg.
Sending lambs to Preston increases food miles but, as Colin points out, recent plant closures at Turriff and ABP at Bathgate have meant Scotland has 40% less slaughtering capacity than a year ago.
“And that has been reflected in the number of faces at the ringside,” adds Graeme.
It’s not just the finished markets that have begun to enjoy the latest of Indian summers.
The brothers sold 18 spring-born calves off the cow three weeks ago, averaging 408 after deductions.
“That was too good a trade to miss,” says Graeme.
But there is an exception to every rule.
The brothers took 15 in-calf heifers to Dingwall mart but it was definitely a “buyers’ day”, and they had to take them straight home again.
“That’s added 18 a head to the cost of those cattle.”
On reflection, Colin feels he missed a few bargains that day.
“At the moment, we’d have had nowhere to put them.”
Meanwhile, the Cheviot flock is now up to 730 breeding ewes, with a further 106 ewe lambs.
“That’s enough expansion for this year,” says Graeme.
“We may go up to 900 next year, but we don’t have enough winter grazing for 1000 at the moment.”
The ewe lambs will return to the main flock as gimmers next year, swelling numbers further.
“We should be pretty much self-sufficient for replacements then.”
Mule numbers have been cut back by 100, although they still have a valuable place on the farm.
“By lambing a month earlier than the Cheviot flock, they give us a longer selling period, and we can start earlier, selling Mule-born lambs in July after an April lambing.”
Christmas, of course, is a time for receiving, and the brothers are looking forward to the first single farm payment cheque, due in early December.
“We know we’re getting 75%, but of what?” says Colin.
“Nobody can tell us. We have to presume it’s 75% of our top line.
“You would think, if they’re ready to pay so quickly, they would be able to tell us exactly what we’re due to receive.
We know there’s 6.5% modulation to come off the top line, and there will be further deductions to fund the rural stewardship schemes.
“And we are missing our support payments,” he adds.
“Usually, we would have received Sheep Annual Premium in October, Beef Special Premium and Slaughter Premium in November, and Suckler Cow Premium in December and January, so we are feeling it a bit.”
But it’s been a busy trading period, so cash-flows haven’t suffered too much.
“Now we’re busy thinking of ways to spend the SFP when it arrives.
You can be sure most Scottish machinery dealers will be rubbing their hands in the first week in December.”