7 June 2002

Routine jobs come to the


With lambing and calving

finished, thoughts at

Towiemore, our new

Management Matters farm

in Scotland, turn to more

routine chores, with cereal

and grassland management

to the fore.

Shelley Wright reports

BROTHERS Colin and Graeme Smith have been farming the 136ha (336 acres) of land on a fully secure tenancy at Towiemore, near Keith, Banffshire, for the past 24 years.

A further 309ha (764 acres) of adjoining heather hill is also rented, and 30ha (74 acres) of grass is rented each year on seasonal lets.

The partnership runs 80 Limousin-cross suckler cows and 20 heifers, as well as 500 breeding ewes plus 100 hoggs. Barley is also grown for stockfeed.

"The barley needs spraying for weeds," says Graeme Smith. But, unfortunately, things were delayed because the farms Allman sprayer needed a new seal on the on/off control. And, late last week, almost a fortnight after ordering a replacement, he was still waiting.

"Its a sign of the times," says Graeme. "None of the manufacturers or dealers is carrying any spare stock." But the weather has been kind enough not to rub salt into the wound. "Its been wet and windy, so we wouldnt have been able to spray anyway," he says.

Silage fields will also need rolling in the coming weeks. "We just take the one cut of silage, usually in mid-July," says Colin. About 26ha (65 acres) is conserved, which provides some winter feed for the beef suckler herd.

The barley, all Riviera this year, will be used for feeding at home, too. Although the farm lies in the heart of Scotlands main malt whisky production area, trying to sell malting barley from Towiemore no longer makes economic sense, says Colin.

"There is such a small premium for malting barley over the feed price now. Predictions at the moment are for a £15/t premium at harvest, but even so, thats based on a feed price of just £48/t."

Harvest at Towiemore is usually about 3-4 weeks behind the big malting barley growers along the Moray coast, making it even more difficult to secure the best prices. "And we need feed barley here anyway, as well as the straw for bedding the cattle," says Colin.

The suckler cows at Towiemore are put to pure Limousin bulls. The brothers only started breeding their own cattle in 1996. Previously, they bought stores to finish.

Having established their own herd, all bull calves were left entire and finished on ad-lib barley at about 14 months. But change is afoot with the current crop of calves.

"The price for bull beef has dropped, with buyers wanting more steers and heifers," Colin explains. "And the store market for steers and heifers this spring has been really buoyant. So, we have castrated half the bull calves in the past week and are planning to sell them next spring, with the heifers, as stores."

Most will be sold through ANMs mart at Thainstone, Inverurie, some 40 miles from the farm. "But we will also try to sell some through the mart at Huntly. Its important to support the local business too," says Graeme. Finished bulls are sold directly to Highland Meats at Saltcoats, Ayrshire.

The Smiths dont yet have enough suckler cow quota to cover their cow numbers. "We have 88 units at the moment and have been buying some more here and there," says Colin. "But its costing some £300 a unit at the moment, so we will just keep working away and buying a little more at a time."

Turning to the sheep enterprise, the tups and 100 hoggs are due for shearing imminently, with the 500 breeding ewes following a couple of weeks later.

Changes to flock breeding are under way. Until last year, most of the ewes were Shetland/ Cheviot crosses, put to Suffolk tups and with lambs sold as stores in the late autumn.

"That worked fine when the store price was similar to that for fat lambs," says Colin. "But the returns for stores have fallen, and we got virtually nothing for Shetland/Cheviot cast ewes."

Now the aim is to move to a flock of Scotch mules, with ewes still put to the Suffolk tup and ewe hoggs bred with a Shetland tup for ease of lambing. "The main reason for the change is to give us lambs that we can finish ourselves, at a heavier weight, and to provide a return on the cast ewes," Colin says. Lambing can also be brought forward a couple of weeks, to the beginning of April, to get more weight from grass. Turnips are grown to finish the lambs.

"We are now up to about 250 mules," says Graeme. "Keeping the bulk of the female lambs for breeding should mean that we are virtually rid of the Shetland/Cheviots in another three years."

Sheep are lambed outside and are then moved inside for a day where ewes are wormed and lambs are ringed. A graze-and- move policy keeps the pasture worm burden low and lambs are wormed only once, at weaning.

Cattle are housed at the end of October and are then returned to grass a few days after calving.

In the past fortnight, all new calves have been dehorned and the cows and heifers were batched into groups of 25 ready for the bulls to be introduced last Monday. "The bulls stay with the females through to September. It maybe means we have a few stragglers at the end of calving, but a late calf is better than no calf," says Colin.

Farming without any hired labour, the Smiths are firm believers in using outside help. Ploughing, one-pass sowing and silaging is all handed over to local contractors. "We do our own manure spreading, crop spraying and rolling," says Colin.

And, in turn, they make use of their own combine to go harvesting barley on contract on the sandier, coastal soils in the summer weeks before their own crop is ready for cutting.

Unlike the south and west of Scotland, the north-east has had a fine, dry spring and barley crops are looking good. And, after the misery of last years harvest, which was very much a stop-start affair, the Smiths will not be alone in hoping for better things this year. &#42

This years crop of spring barley at Towiemore will be used to feed stock. Malting barley no longer stacks up, say Graeme (left) and Colin Smith.

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

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