FOUR VERY expensive collie pups are the latest addition to the Towiemore livestock enterprise; expensive because they had to be delivered by Caesarean section at 2.30am.

But mum, Judy, seems none the worse for the trauma and should be back to full fitness to at least help with lambing in a month”s time.

Graeme Smith intends to keep one of the female pups and will train her himself. “You just wait. The language will be unbelievable,” says his brother, Colin.

Progress on the calving front has been a little easier, with more than half the heifers having given birth. “And all the calves have emerged from the back, rather than the side, so vets” bills haven”t been too bad there,” Colin says. He is delighted with the consistency in the calves this year, all of which are from a Limousin bull.

The 70 in-calf cows are due to start calving any day now. But, with all last year”s spring-born calves now through the store ring at Thainstone, there is plenty of room in the sheds to cope with cows and calves.

The 66 store steers and heifers sold for an average of 130p/kg, up on last year. “And we topped the sale two weeks in a row at Thainstone, which we were very pleased about,” says Graeme. “The trade was tremendous, with plenty of buyers there. It just shows that there is still plenty of optimism about the future of beef farming,” he adds.

PRICE WORRIES

On the other hand, the trade for fat lambs is worrying. “It doesn”t affect us directly at the moment because all our lambs are away,” Graeme says. “But, with prices back about 50p/kg on the year, the folk who bought lambs in the autumn to finish are going to be struggling to make a penny. And that doesn”t bode well for the store sales this autumn.”

Even with worries about the trade, the day-to-day job of shepherding continues. “The ewes have wintered very cheaply on grass this year and are looking good. As they approach lambing they are now on an 18% protein sheep roll, with access to high energy mineral licks as well,” says Graeme.

And, in a fortnight, just two weeks before lambing begins, the ewes will be gathered and given a combined clostridial and pasteurella vaccine.

VACCINE

“We don”t worm the ewes before lambing, all they get is the vaccine. And we make sure they are handled very quietly and gently and that they are allowed back out on to grass as soon as they are jagged,” Colin explains. Worming is done before the ewes and lambs are moved to clean grazing.

A third of the planned new flock of 1000 hill-type Cheviots has been bought. “We got 220 from a farm near Ullapool, and the other 110 are gimmers from a farm at Lockerbie,” Graeme says.

“I”m really pleased with them all. They should all manage to lamb off the grass this year and then we”ll get them up the hill onto the new grazing,” he says, referring to the 1620ha (4000 acres) of hill grazing that the brothers started renting this year.

The aim is to build the Cheviot flock to 1000 ewes, but it will be autumn this year before any more are bought.

SFP APPEAL

In the next few weeks, Colin and Graeme hope to hear if their appeal to the national reserve for increased single farm payment entitlement has been successful.

“We put in the application along with evidence from the bank and SAC to back up our case. Due to our beef expansion after the 2000-2002 SFP reference period, we have applied to the national reserve to cover the extra 240 beef special premium and 25 suckler cows claims made after the reference period,” says Colin.

He remains hopeful the claim will be successful and result in a top-up of the farm”s SFP entitlement. But he is less than happy that the Scottish Executive decided to extend the deadline for applications to the reserve by two months, with May 16 now the cut-off date.

“We need to know as soon as possible if our application has been successful,” Colin says. “And it seems very unfair that things might be held up just to give more time to folk who failed to meet the original deadline.”

That aside, the brothers are now studying the menu of 17 options under tier 2 of Scotland”s new Land Management Contract scheme, which begins this year.

Although the final details of the various agri-environment and social elements that make up the menu are not yet available, the 1/ha a year offered for summer grazing of unenclosed land by cattle looks attractive.

“It would depend how many cattle they wanted us to keep, but we could easily put some hardy native breeds out on the new hill land for the summer,” says Graeme.

shelley22@bun.com