5 February 1999

Continuous rain means all ewes housed indoors

The New Year resolution at Kings Arms was to maintain

the same beef and sheep farming mix but to try to do

things even better. This attitude is reflected in the run up

to lambing, as Allan Wright discovers

BUSINESS improvements at Kings Arms will have to come largely from improved stock management. Although Robert and Caroline Dalrymple accept that fixed costs are too high, these tend to be dictated by the farms nature.

"We have two units run as one but they are three miles apart and we spend a lot of time moving stock and feed from one place to the other," says Mr Dalrymple. "We need two vehicles and two loaders and there is nothing we can do about that."

All ewes have been housed, including those having singles. Some straw deliveries have been delayed to create more room for ewes, and an old building has been adapted to make extra room. The move was forced by continuous wet weather – more than 175mm (7in) of rain fell in January.

"Pastures were suffering and so were sheeps feet. Even the tups have been housed on wooden slats. It is the first chance all season for their feet to harden," says Mr Dalrymple.

The 1050 ewes have scanned at 211%, nine points up on last year. Almost 300 carry triplets and 10 are due to have quads. The 260 hoggs, which remain on the hill, have scanned at 136% compared with 124% last season. Three with triplets have been housed.

The Dalrymples always buy at the top end of the ewe lamb market – and from the same farm. This policy encourages production of big, quality lambs with guaranteed potential.

"If we bought third draw lambs or first draws from higher hills there would be much uncertainty about how they would grow and perform. And big ewes produce more triplets which helps towards our goal of turning every ewe out with a pair."

Barren ewe prices are well down, a sign of the times. Of the 20 recently sold, Texel crosses made £26 and mules £20, compared with £37 and £34 last year.

Lambing begins on Feb 21 and assistants have been secured. The ewes are all inoculated against both clostridial diseases and E coli-related troubles like watery mouth and scours.

The lambing shed will be cleaned out this year just before lambing starts. "In previous years the bedding got very deep, took a lot of maintaining, and possibly posed disease risks. This time a contractor promises to be able to clean out the shed over two days using a skid-steer loader," says Mr Dalrymple. A layer of lime will also be put down beforebedding.

As usual, ewes have been divided into pens according to lambing date, lamb number and body condition. "We condition score as they go through the footbath. We can then feed all groups accordingly, hopefully being more cost-efficient," explains Mr Dalrymple.

"We dont want overfat ewes but we do want really good condition. They are going out with lambs at the beginning of March when grass may be scarce and they have to milk off their backs."

The grass will be boosted with fertiliser as soon as T-sums indicate and the fertiliser for 1999 has been delivered. "We buy to guarantee our supply now and pay in three equal instalments in April, May, and June. That suits our cash flow and avoids any price hike that may come in the spring," says Mr Dalrymple.

On the cattle front, heifers are calving – to Charolais sires – and so far most of them have had heifer calves. Replacement breeding heifers have been bought earlier than normal. "We got the chance of nine at £400 apiece which is less than we paid last year. Buying now means we have time to get them into good condition for going to the bull in April."

Some store cattle may be sold later this month, depending on space needed for sheep and how the beef market shapes up. &#42

Preparations for lambing are well underway at Kings Arms. Robert Dalrymple is determined to give this years crop the healthiest of starts.

FARM FACTS

&#8226 Kings Arms and Crailoch Farms, at Ballantrae on the Ayrshire coast, run as one 262ha (650 acre) unit by Robert and Caroline Dalrymple.

&#8226 Grass the only crop – for grazing and high-quality silage. It is an early area but land near the sea is sandy and burns easily in summer.

&#8226 Suckler herd of 180 cows mated to Charolais sires and progeny sold as yearlings.

&#8226 Sheep flock of 900 Mule and Texel-cross ewes lambing from mid-February. About 300 hoggs are also lambed.

&#8226 Farm staff of three.