Farmer Focus: I thought I was prepared this year

The past year has been quite challenging in many ways.

At lambing time, I was convinced I was prepared. I had invested in a whole new infrastructure in the lambing shed, had sorted my nutrition and the ewes were all doing well on the new soya-based diet with high-quality silage. All was looking good.

Then the abortions started. My vet and the laboratory said it looked like enzootic but the blood tests in midsummer, to everyone’s surprise, did not confirm that.

I reckon it cost me £4,000 in lost lambs so it will come as no surprise that all ewes have been vaccinated.

See also: How a farmer cut antibiotics and the cost of sheep abortion

Tupping condition

On the positive side, the paddock grazing worked well, the ewes are in fairly good condition at tupping and I dramatically reduced my ewe losses at lambing which was one of my targets.

Cattle have performed really well this year, growth rates have been good and I feel the quality of cattle I am producing is improving. Grades have been good, as have prices.

One of the biggest challenges has been making the best use of all the grass I produce – in other words grazing it.

Silage cut error

This year, I cut far too much silage because I didn’t have enough stock to eat it. Next year I plan to start the summer with 300 head of cattle, up from 220 and 300 ewes with lambs.

One of the highlights of the past year has been learning from the Quality Meat Scotland grazing group I joined. The farmers in that room are a breath of fresh air, measuring, changing, challenging and most importantly sharing.

Next year could be massive for our retail operation. Our planning permission for our new shop, cafe and indoor soft-play area runs out in March.

It’s a huge investment but having an “off farm” income might be really necessary in the coming years.

Next year really worries me and there is nothing I can do about it. It’s not in my control and I have no influence.

By this time next year we will know a lot more of what Brexit is going to mean for our industry and I hope if they are still asking me to write this piece I will still be smiling while typing. Happy new year to everyone.


Michael Shannon finishes 150-head of mostly Angus beef stores each year and runs 280 Scotch Mules on a 100ha forage-only enterprise as well as free-range turkeys for Christmas, near Biggar, Lanarkshire. Meat is sold through his online business and farm shop Damn Delicious with surpluses sold deadweight.