NSA Highland Sheep 2015
Date: 9th June 2015
Sheep farmers from throughout the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, and further afield too, anxious to glean the latest technical information to improve the physical and financial performance of their flocks, descended on Fearn Farm, Tain, Ross-shire, yesterday (Tuesday 9th June) for NSA Highland Sheep 2015.
Visitors were welcomed by Sybil MacPherson, NS Scottish Region Chairman, who introduced host farmer John Scott, current holder of the UK Sheep Farmer of the Year title in the annual Farmers Weekly awards.
Mrs MacPherson said the sheep industry faced many challenges but also opportunities and an exciting future for those who made the most of them.
The scene was set by Jim McLaren, QMS Chairman, who officially opened the event. Sheep farmers, he said, could do nothing about the weather, which had impacted severely on hill and upland flocks this spring, nor the currency exchange rate which was currently having an adverse influence over the export of Scotch lamb and had a direct effect on the price producers received for their finished lambs. But sheep farmers could take steps to ‘protect themselves from the impact of the unexpected’ by taking advantage of the opportunities to improve efficiency, such as exploring the potential to improve profitability by making the most of grass.
The industry also faced the challenge of increasing the consumption of lamb at home, with per capita consumption in Scotland a mere 0.76kg compared with 5.48kg for beef. Significantly – and worryingly – QMS market research had shown that almost 70% of shoppers buying lamb are 55 or over. However, QMS’s award winning ‘Wham Bam Scotch Lamb’ promotional campaign last autumn had seen retail sales boosted by 11% and was being repeated this year. The success of this campaign – on a limited budget – had given him confidence for the future.
Mr McLaren said: “We have a great product in Scotch Lamb – natural, delicious and versatile – and we have a world which is increasingly demanding quality red meat. So, despite the challenges we inevitably face, there is a great deal to feel positive about for the long term.”
The focus for the day was on how sheep farmers could improve the performance of their sheep – which are today such a key part of the farming economy of the Highlands – in the light of declining ewe numbers and cut-backs in support following the recent CAP reform.
And who better to lead the way than host farmer, John Scott, who with his family runs 4,200 pedigree and commercial ewes on 1,000 acres at Fearn, and other nearby grazings, and has strong views on how sheep farmers will have to up their game to survive in the future.
John is the fourth generation of the Scott family to farm at Fearn and is passionate about his sheep enterprise, laying a great deal of emphasis on genetics, husbandry, grassland management and marketing to improve productivity and reduce the farm’s dependence on subsidy.
“Our biggest challenge as sheep farmers is our mind-set,” he says. “We have become a generation of farmers whose aim has been to maximise subsidy. We must now focus on lifting profitability by improving the factors we can control, such as raising scanning percentages, reducing lambing losses and winter feed bills, and managing and utilising grass more effectively.”
The opportunity of viewing Mr Scott’s flock during the farm tour was the main attraction for most farmers and they came back inspired by the quality of the sheep and the positive approach Mr Scott adopts to the management of his flocks. He has searched far and wide for the best genetics to improve his ewe flock, which comprises 3,300 cross ewes and hoggs, 150 pure Texels, 50 New Zealand Suffolk and 80 Aberfield (the only flock of this hybrid in Scotland). A further 900 Cheviot ewes are maintained on hill grazings in Sutherland, on which the Scott’s have secured a lease.
The best of the Cheviot ewes are bred pure and the rest put to Aberfield rams, while crossbred ewes are put to Texel, Beltex and NZ Suffolk rams. Mr Scott sees the Aberfield as a sire of hardy prolific ewes for hill flocks. The breed is a hybrid of Texel and Bluefaced Leicester lines, developed by genetics company Innovis, and the Fearn flock is derived from an extensive embryo transfer programme which will see the flock grow to 300 ewes in the first three years of the programme.
“We are looking for a different type of Cheviot Mule which is prolific and hardy but produces a superior carcase,”says Mr Scott.
The NZ Suffolk is a breed which has been heavily selected for ease of lambing and vigour and this flock has also been built up quickly by ET. Of his breed, Mr Scott says: “NZ Suffolk rams can cover more ewes and sire more live lambs than some of the traditional breeds. They are light boned, which enables hoggs to be tupped successfully. Grades of the finished lamb may not be as good as the Texel or traditional Suffolk but I get more lambs to grade R3L faster, producing more kg of lamb per acre, which is what I’m after.”
Contract farming was suggested at a seminar at NSA Highland Sheep as a mean of creating an avenue for new entrants coming into the industry. Agricultural consultant Andrew Macdonald, of the Laurence Gould Partnership, said fewer farms were likely to be offered for rent by landowners because of possible changes in land tenure. But a contract farming arrangement could work just as well on sheep farms as it does on arable farms.
“Contract farming is not a tenancy in disguise,” he said. “It is freedom of contract and is very flexible to set up to suit both the farmer and the contractor.”
The farmer would continue to occupy the land and provide the finances for the business for capital and trading expenses while the contractor would provide the labour and management and possibly machinery as well.
Both the farmer and contractor could expect to earn £15-£25 per ewe from the arrangement, to give the farmer a return for his input into the business in terms of land, livestock and financing and contractor a payment for his management and labour out of trading expenditure. Any surplus would be split between the two at an agreed percentage.
Other features of the event included the Scottish Young Shepherd of the Year competition, an inter-district sheepdog trial, stockjudging, sheep shearing demonstration and show and sale of ewe hoggs. The event attracted more than 80 trade stands and 20 breed displays.
Mrs MacPherson paid warm tribute to the Scott family and the local organising committee – particularly Vice Chairman Katherine Marr – for the success of the event (the second held in the Highlands) and the support received from the local farming community, sponsors and trade stand holders. The main sponsors were British Wool Marketing Board, Caltech Crystalyx, Campaign for Wool, Clydesdale Bank, Dingwall and Highland Marts, Dunbia, Innovis, Shearwell Data and Quality Meat Scotland.
The Scott’s are one of five farming families in Scotland whose activities over the year are being followed by a BBC2 camera team for a 12-programme series of ‘On The Farm’ to be screened next year.
- Breed society stand: 1, Blackface Sheep Breeders Association; 2, Hampshire Down Sheep Breeders Association; 3, Jacob Sheep Society.
- Indoor trade stand: N. and J. McQuiston, Airyolland; 2, Scottish Association of Young Farmers Clubs; 3, Gray Feed Services.
- Outdoor trade stand: 1, Watson Seeds; 2, Scotpen; 3, Harbro.
- Young Shepherd of the Year: 1, John Brown, New Deer, Aberdeenshire; 2, Connaire Graham, Aboyne, Aberdeenshire; 3, Martin Scott, Fearn, Ross-shire. Best under 21: Farquhar Renwick, Ullapool, Ross-shire. Highest placed international competitor: Sam Gemmel, New Zealand.
- Sheepdog Trial: Individual: 1, Ian Wilkie, Inverurie, with Floss; 2, Hamish MacLean, Inverness, with Roy; 3, Hugh Munro, Inverness, with Sal; 4, Michael Shearer, Thurso, with Roy; 5, Ewan MacKinnon, Lochcarron, with Midge; 6, Magnus Sutherland, Wick, with Glen. Team: Inverness. Young Handlers: 1, Joe MacKenzie, Turriff, with Twedie; 2, Martin Scott, Fearn, with Kim; 3, Farquhar Renwick, Ullapool, with Leigh.
- Stockjudging: 1, Sandy McCarthy, East Mey, Caithness; 2, Danny McCarthy, East Mey, Caithness; 3, W.D. Manson, Skaill, Caithness. 25 and under: 1, Alistair McCarthy, East Mey, Caithness; 2, Jamie MacKinnon; 3, Daniel Skinner.
- Guess Weight of the Bull (1,560kg): J. Mackenzie, Bridge of Westfield, Thurso.
- Guess Weight of the Ram (95kg): Graham McKilligan, Turriff, Aberdeenshire.
Show and sale of ewe hoggs: Aberdeenshire Suffolk breeder, Mrs Irene Fowlie, Adziel, Strichen, repeated her success of two years ago by securing the top price of 750gns each for a pair of Suffolk at the show and sale of ewe hoggs held at NSA Highland Sheep 2015. With buyers present from all over the UK, the successful bidders were A.C. Farms, Rutland, Leicester.
A total of 20 pairs of hoggs of various breeds and crosses were sold with strong bidding from a packed ringside for the commercial and cross-bred pairs, with pedigree hoggs proving more difficult to sell.
“Mule and cross hoggs were easily sold and sellers were well satisfied with prices,” said auctioneer Paul Spencer of Dingwall and Highland Marts, who conducted the sale on behalf NSA Scottish Region.
Other leading prices: Dorset: Smallburn Farms, 300gns. Cheviot Mule: Croftdhu, Tomatin, 200gns. Dutch Texels: The Neuk, Peterhead, 180gns, 150gns. Mule: Fearn Farm, 190gns; Coxton, Cornhill, 185gns; Croftdhu, 175gns; Mountrich Farm, Dingwall, and Milton, Aberarder, 170gns. Scottish Blackface: Glenrinnes Farms, 260gns; Reclettich, Glenrinnes, 220gns. Texel: Bogallan, North Kessock, 170gns. Texel x Cheviot: Inverbroom, Ullapool, 175gns.