6 September 2002

Lamb prospects provide reasons to be cheerful

A strong trade for finished

lambs has put a smile

on the faces at Towiemore.

Shelley Wright reports

THE first 50 Suffolk-cross lambs were sold from Towiemore a fortnight ago to Keypacks Turriff abattoir, averaging £42/head after deductions. And the cheque is in the bank.

"Our best price was 235p/kg, which is a good return. This time last year we averaged just £28/lamb," says Graeme Smith.

The lambs, born from Apr 15, were finished on milk and grass. And, for the next two months, lots of about 50 will be drawn every fortnight at killing weight.

With another 800 lambs to sell between now and January, Graeme and brother Colin hope prices remain buoyant. "There isnt enough grass to finish them all here, so we will sell about 300 as stores in the coming weeks. The remainder will be turned onto turnips in October, with an ad-lib corn/sugar beet feed introduced later in the year.

"Although the aim is to sell them as stores, we will keep an eye on the fat price," says Colin. "If it carries on like it is, we might push the lambs on and finish them before the year end."

And he is optimistic. "The only thing that could affect lamb values is if the French carry out their threat to ban spinal cord. If that does happen, it would not be until after the New Year, by which time we should have all our lambs away."

There is also increased competition in the market in the north-east of Scotland compared with previous years. "ANM has opened its new sheep abattoir in Dornoch and there are sheep being bought here for slaughter from the north of England. Both these add to the competition and give us more choices," says Graeme.

Dornoch is 80 miles from Towiemore, but ANM -Scotlands largest farmer-owned meat and mart business – uses Elgin market as a collection centre. "If we are selling to them we drop the lambs into Elgin, which is about 16 miles away, and ANM transports them free up to Dornoch," says Graeme.

Although selling the lambs brings in some money, like on all farms, it doesnt stay in the bank for long.

Last week Graeme travelled to Scotlands central belt to the ewe lamb sale at Stirling.

"I bought 87 mule lambs, which averaged £57. Thats up £11 on the price we were paying last year for lambs bought at Dingwall, but they are big, strong lambs," he says.

He aims to buy another 50 ewe lambs this year, either locally at Huntly market or at Dingwall, some 70 miles away, where the sale on Monday (Sept 9) represents the last in the area of the top ewe lambs.

Sheep bought at Stirling cost about £1.50/head to transport to Towiemore and were immediately put in an isolation field, where they will stay for a month, meaning that the 20-day restriction on movements does not apply to the rest of the stock on the farm.

Colins dreaded "sheep disease", which sees affected animals overwhelmed by the will to die, has struck again. "We lost a tup the other day. It just died. Fortunately, for once, it wasnt the best one." But it means they will be looking to buy three new Suffolk tups later in the year, rather than the planned two.

While Graeme has been busy with the sheep and hauling bought-in straw from arable farms near Oldmeldrum, Colin has had his contractors hat on and has been combining spring barley on light land along the Moray coast.

"We cut about 300 acres of Chalice and Optic and it looked really good," he says. It came off the combine at about 16-17% moisture and, with nitrogen at 1.4-1.6, the crop will easily make malting standards.

That finished, the combine returned to Towiemore to tackle their own remaining 24ha (60 acres) of feed barley. About 8ha (20 acres) had already been cut, crimped and ensiled. Its the first time they have tried crimping, but, if the additive salesmans promises come true, the cattle will find it highly palatable and it should cut feed costs by about 40%.

"But like all these things, we will just have to wait and see how it turns out," says Colin.

Plans to buy a straw chopper, highlighted in the last visit to Towiemore, have been put on hold.

"Thanks to all the readers who rang up offering machines," says Graeme. "But the straw we have bought is the best Ive seen in years. Its lovely and dry and light, and should make bedding the cattle easy this year." &#42

&#8226 Towiemore, near Keith, Banffshire, a 136ha (336 acre) tenanted farm farmed by Colin and Graeme Smith in partnership with their mother.

&#8226 Land is classed as LFA, ranging from 500ft to 800ft above sea level.

&#8226 An additional 309ha (764 acres) of heather hill land is rented, as is 30ha (74 acres) of grass on seasonal lets.

&#8226 The business runs 80 Limousin-cross suckler cows, plus 20 heifers, as well as 500 breeding ewes, plus 100 hoggs.

&#8226 Arable includes 35ha (86.5 acres) of feed barley and there is 4ha (9.8 acres) of set-aside. The rest of the land is in grass.

Just four months after these lambs were born, the first of the crop have been sent to Keypacks Turriff abattoir, averaging £42/head.