Prize-winning silage may mean Peeblesshire monitor farmers Ed and Kate Rowell will not have to feed concentrate to their in-bye sheep this winter.
The couple farm the 1,800-acre Hundleshope, near Peebles, 1,450 acres of which is hill where 350 Blackface ewes receive no supplementary feed other than high energy blocks. The lower ground is home to a breeding flock of 450 Scotch Mule and Texel crosses and 170 hoggs.
“It will be a leap of faith not to feed them concentrates, “ admitted Kate, “and other people will be looking at us to see if it works.”
Experts at an earlier meeting of the local Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) monitor farm group suggested the Rowells make the best silage they could for the sheep (rather than just feed them what was left). So they cut the one-year-old Italian Ryegrass early - and took second prize in the national AgriScot and Scottish Winter Fair silage competitions.
“When you work out the rationing, we shouldn’t have to feed our sheep any concentrates at all, apart from some extra protein in the form of soya,” said Kate. “It didn’t cost us any more to make the silage, we just cut it early and it should save us some money.
“We plan to keep it until the end of February to feed to the ewes as they come close to lambing, to help ensure they have good quality colostrum and plenty of milk.”
A year into three as Peeblesshire’s first monitor farm, Kate said: “It’s going really well, we are really pleased. We’ve tried two or there different things we probably wouldn’t have if we weren’t a monitor farm.
“We’ve changed our breeding policy with the hill sheep to try and breed more of our own replacements, we are experimenting with different bedding systems with our calves, trying wood chip fines rather than straw, and we bought some scales we’re using to weigh the calves and check their daily weight gain and we’re going to use them to weigh the sheep to try and increase the genetics of our hill sheep.
“We haven’t made any drastic changes. We are keeping a very close eye on disease control and getting a lot of tests done.”
But despite the checks and treatment, some lambs sent to the abattoir earlier this month were found to have liver fluke and lung worm.
“They were all treated two months ago so it’s something that is still ongoing. We have had them in today (last Wednesday) and treated them again,” said Kate. “If we tell other people that’s been our experience, hopefully they will be on the lookout for it.”
Between 25 and 35 farmers come to each meeting, she said: “There are a core of about 25 who are always there and getting as much out of it as we are. A lot of them are quite young and it’s a good way of doing continuing professional development: we are doing the changes first and if they work, they’ll try it. Our last meeting was winter rationing and that’s what everybody is thinking about just now.”
The next Peebles monitor farm meeting is in the New Year. For more information and farm reports visit www.qmscotland.co.uk/monitorfarms.