Time away is time to reflect and plan

After spending Christmas and New Year away from Fearn Farm, it’s all go again for the Scott family. Suzie Horne reports

A family trip to New Zealand for five weeks from late November has given John Scott and his wife Fiona valuable time to reflect on the future of their business.

“We definitely benefitted from getting away. It’s always a good thing to take a step back and look at things. We’ve been flat out since we got back though,” says John.

A mixture of business and pleasure took the couple with children James, Lexie, Izzy and Archie all over New Zealand, with the farming visits concentrating on beef and sheep production on the South Island.

The scale of farming operations there, the growth in land prices and the scale and speed of development of its dairy industry in particular made a huge impression on John.

“One of the main things that it brought home to me was that we have been guilty for too long of encouraging farming sons and daughters to go off and do other things, away from farming,” he says.

“It’s clear now that that approach has to be binned – the industry needs enthusiastic, motivated and skilled people right across the spectrum from scientists to manual farm workers.

“It’s also clear that there will be more and more interest in agriculture and in food production.”

John’s father James had kept all running smoothly during the family’s trip away.

Bull sales

Preparations for the first lambing and for Stirling bull sales, as well as catching up with paperwork, have been the focus since their return, which was to sodden grassland across the farm.

As usual there will be three lambings at Fearn, starting on 15 February with a group of 500 head. Thanks to a very successful tupping, this is a far bigger bunch than had been expected and is split between 400 commercial and 100 pedigree ewes.

Ewe numbers overall have risen again this year, to 1,950 head, and lambing will be split into three groups with the second starting on 19 March and the final batch lambing outside from 25 April.

Raymond Bremner will be at his regular post as night lamber while Anne Wood and Laura Sutherland, who have both have worked at Fearn Farm before make up the rest of the team so far. One more helper will be recruited in the meantime.

For the farm’s one full-time non-family staff member, George Shearer, a Kuhn straw bedder bought for £11,200 is making the daily housed cattle routine easier. “It has reduced straw use by a third and possibly more and the ease of it is great,” says John.

Only 40 lambs are left to finish from the 2011 crop, with a lorry having been loaded out most Tuesdays through the summer to Woodhead’s Turriff abattoir. It’s a system John is very happy with as payment goes direct to the farm’s bank account within three working days.

Livestock numbers

With sheep numbers up, wheat has been dropped from the crop rotation this year, simplifying the operation and in particular cutting out the risk of a time-consuming and costly stint on the dryer for John’s father James.

“With the sheep numbers increasing and cow numbers down slightly, we’ll have to accept that we can’t provide clean ground for the sheep all the time,” says John. “We could do with some more grazing ground but I think I’m going to have to go a bit further away than usual to get it.”

John is still debating the cattle/sheep split in terms of land use and profitability. “Despite strong cattle prices, there is still a question mark over the profitability of the commercial suckler cows but they give the farm balance which I think is important.”

The team is looking forward to taking seven home bred Shorthorn bulls to the Stirling sales next week – the biggest number the farm has ever sent. “We just happen to have seven which are good bulls and suit the timing this year.”

John is also very excited about one of the family’s long term plans coming to fruition this summer with Fearn’s first on-farm sale of 40 to 50 home-bred tups on 24 August. “We’re working with Dingwall & Highland Marts who will be running the sale for us and with our local vets to organise the sale.

“It’s something we’ve been wanting to do for a while and I hope people will come, will buy and give feedback on the sale and on the stock.”

Another new venture is the installation of two 20kW wind turbines for which planning permission has been granted.

Fearn’s wind turbines

* Two C&F CF20 turbines bought from and installed by Kinross-based Mint Energy 20kWh turbines with 6x6m blades

* Will feed national grid with possibility of a third turbine closer to house to provide electricity for domestic needs later

* Grid connection should be established in March/April and then work can begin on the installation

* Based on minimum expected output, payback in 5.5 years to 6.5 years, depending on level of borrowing for scheme

* Another new venture is the installation of two 20kW wind turbines for which planning permission has been granted. A grid connection should be established in March/April and then work can begin on the installation.

The Fearn Farm website is serving its intended purpose of promoting the farm’s brand in particular for breeding stock, an increasing proportion of which is being sold privately.

In future it will promote other new ventures too – one of which will be two holiday cottages converted from a dilapidated mill building close to the farmhouse.

This conversion has been a long term plan and the Scotts are hoping to secure an Scotland Rural Development Programme grant for part of this work – without this the project won’t be viable. As in many other areas, John values the help of his localScottish Agricultural Collegeadvisors and is using their services to put together the plans and grant application.

They will also be helping to put together a new agri-environment plan under the SRDP rural priorities funding stream. This will include grass margins, new hedges, species rich grassland and unharvested crop plots.

Later this year at Fearn Farm

• First on farm tup sale – 40 to 50 head on 24 August

• Installation of two 20kW wind turbines

• Grant application for conversion of dilapidated barn to two holiday cottages

• New environmental scheme applications

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