Time on hill unit provides a taste of the high life
Management Matters heads
north this week to meet our
new Scottish participant
who farms in Perthshire.
Allan Wright reports
IAN Duncan Millar runs Tirinie Farm, a mixed livestock and arable unit which has been in the family for 40 years, and he also manages the nearby hill farm of Wester Tullich for a separate family partnership.
Both units are in Perthshire, close to Aberfeldy where the rivers Tay and Lyon meet. Approaching Aberfeldy from the south affords spectacular views of mountains where the snow lies all year, great expanses of heather, and, nearer the rivers, some excellent grazing and arable land.
Running both Tirinie and Wester Tullich gives Mr Duncan Millar experience of farming from 300ft above sea level to over 2000ft. The hill farm extends to 440ha (1100 acres) and runs 650 Blackface ewes which are bred pure.
It is a self-contained unit with one full time shepherd. Rather than being sold as stores, lambs go to Tirinie for finishing on turnips. Lambing is now well underway on the hill – 240 were scanned to have twins.
"With better feeding and stock selection, we are now marketing a lamb for every ewe after keeping replacement ewe lambs. That is 15% better than it used to be," says Mr Duncan Millar.
"We are recording 200 ewes with Signet and using their standard index. Basically, we are selecting the ewes which produce the heaviest lambs but really it is about identifying those lines which perform best for us in this environment," he says. The next stage will be performance testing of rams.
But even the simple things can make a difference. A "snacker" feeder which is towed by the farm bike and drops feed at regular intervals has boosted performance too, says Mr Duncan Millar.
"It has been nothing short of a revolution. We can take feed to the ewes on the hill without them charging down to troughs. There is much less stress, shy ewes or gimmers have a better opportunity to feed, and there is far less chance of mis-mothering."
Lambing at Tirinie, which he does himself, is now complete. The target is to have 180 lambs marketed or retained for breeding from every 100 ewes and, despite two days of torrential rain in the third week of April, the target should be met. "We managed to house everything that lambed during those two days and the losses were confined to some of those which had been born a day or so earlier."
The 300 ewes and 100 hoggs are a mix of Scotch Mules and Texel-Mule crosses. The Texel crosses are home-bred and replacement Mules are bought in each year. Mules are mated to Texel tups and the Texel crosses go to Suffolks.
All the sale lambs are marketed through Highland Glen Producers which started as a lamb marketing co-operative, though it has since branched into beef cattle. Mr Duncan Millar was a founder member and chairman for the first 10 years from 1969.
What market wants
"The group has given us an insight on what the market wants and what is happening in the market place. We have a league table for members stock based on the percentage meeting R3L grade or better. A member selling Blackface lambs has won which shows that the breed can meet modern requirements if the sheep are properly fed and bred," he says.
Highland Glen markets mainly to ABP at Bathgate and Perth. "The co-op is an efficient procurement agency. Perhaps there is no great price premium but there is a small and consistent one. There are other advantages, like a regular intake from the group when individuals are struggling to get an outlet for stock during peak marketings," says Mr Duncan Millar, who is a marketing enthusiast and looks to the day when a federal of lamb groups might bring more strength to producers.
He was quick to sign up for the first beef and lamb assurance scheme in Scotland some 10 years ago and he now chairs the technical committee which sets the standards for the farm assurance scheme run by the Scotch Quality Beef and Lamb Association.
The cattle enterprise at Tirinie sees an entire crop of spring-born suckled calves bought from a nearby farm each autumn. Bull calves are kept entire and sold out of sheds at 12 to 14 months. The better half of the heifers are mated to a Limousin bull and, in due course, sold with calf at foot. The other heifers finish off grass.
Arable farming centres on spring barley with 57ha (140 acres) of Chariot grown on contract for the malting industry and with one field grown for seed, again on contract. "We are just that bit too late up here to play the spot market."
This years crop is now all in the ground and, apart from one field where sowing was delayed by the April rain storm, is all brairded. The fertiliser has been spread on both cereal and grass fields – which include 14ha (35 acres) of silage or hay.
"It seems strange after all the rain, that the next thing will be irrigating the barley. We have to do that most years because the arable land is light, sandy loam over gravel." *
• Tirinie, a 129ha (318-acre) mixed arable and stock farm in north-west Perthshire, farmed by Ian Duncan Millar. It has been in the family for 40 years.
• The land is a mix of sandy loam over gravel near the rivers Tay and Lyon, and medium loam away from rivers.
• Main arable crop is spring barley for malting and seed contracts. Turnips grown for wintering sheep.
• Sheep flock of 300 Mule and Texel cross ewes. Lambs are finished and sold through a local lamb marketing group.
• Suckled calves bought privately from one farm. Males finished intensively, best heifer calves kept for breeding and sold with calves at foot.
• Farm staff of one, for tractor work.