ROSS-SHIRE FARM VENUE FOR NSA HIGHLAND SHEEP 2017
For someone who readily admits to a self-confessed aversion to cattle and sheep as a teenager, NSA Highland Sheep host, Amy Grant, is a remarkably enthusiastic, dedicated and committed farmer with a passion for the species she once despised.
Amy will be hosting NSA Scotland’s third biennial event for sheep farmers in the north along with her mother, Dorothy Clark, and sister, Sheena, who works in London, and looks forward to welcoming a huge gathering of sheep farmers from the Highlands and Islands – and further afield – to the family farm on Wednesday, March 31.
Her early fear of the farm livestock led her to study Russian and marketing with a view to joining the family coal merchant’s business, which included importing coal from Russia. But following the sudden and unexpected death of her father, she came home to help her mother on the farm and has never looked back.
“I absolutely love it and wouldn’t dream of doing anything else,” she says.
It’s a busy life running the farm, which extends to just under 1000 acres, with a flock of 450 ewes and suckler herd of 160 cows, as well as “doing the books” for her husband’s livestock haulage business and all the domestic chores of a busy housewife and mother and two children still at school.
Perhaps because of her lack of involvement in the farm in earlier days, she approaches the business of farming with an open mind. “We’ve aye din it this wye,” is not her mantra. She is continually questioning what she’s doing on the farm and looking at how the performance of the cattle and sheep can be improved.
The pedigree Limousin herd, which was the pride and joy of both Amy and her mother, has gone because it wasn’t paying it’s way and Kinnahaird is currently one of several farms conducting a feeding trial with Harbro designed to identify ways of boosting ewe health and lamb vitality through improved nutrition.
The trial involves three groups of ewes being fed slightly different rations for three weeks before lambing and the ewes blood tested and lambs weighed to monitor performance. It’s hoped to announce the results of the trial at Highland Sheep.
The opportunity of touring Kinnahaird by tractor and trailer to view the sheep and cattle will be one of the major attractions for visitors attending the event.
The flock is closed, apart from bought-in rams, and the emphasis is on maternal traits. The ewes are Cheviot Mule and Texel cross with North Country Cheviots crossed with the Bluefaced Leicester to produce replacement Mules with plenty of milk and mothering instincts.
A strict culling policy is followed for lameness, particularly for Contagious Ovine Digital Dermatitis (CODD), which is highly contagious.
Interestingly, the terminal sires used are crossbred – Charolais x Texel and Charolais x Beltex – with the aim of producing lambs with length and good conformation. Lambing starts the third week of March and last year the first finished lambs were away by June 23. Most are finished off grass without supplementary feeding with the aim of producing a 21kg carcase.
Scanning percentage this year was 197% and Amy is hopeful, with the good weather pre and post lambing, that the final lambing percentage will be close to the scanning figure. Lambing has been going well with ewes in good condition and very few prolapses. Touch wood, twin lamb disease has never been a problem in the flock.
Triplets are not welcome, because of the work involved in cross-fostering, which is why Amy has opted for the Cheviot Mule rather than the Scotch Mule.
Ewes have access to Harbro’s Energyze Forage Booster instant energy bucket over the winter to make the best use of available forage and keep body condition right, switching to Vitality six weeks before lambing to enhance the quality and quantity of colostrum and boost lamb vitality.
Ewe rolls are fed at 0.5lbs to 1.5lbs/ewe/day depending on condition which is normally increased to 2lbs after lambing but this year has been held at 1.5lbs because of favourable spring weather and the good condition of the ewes.
Up to now, all lambs have sold live through the ring at Dingwall but Amy is considering selling some deadweight to follow through carcase quality and assess which tups are leaving the lambs achieving the highest killing out percentage.
She is conscious of ram performance trials where lambs by the rams with the lowest performance score were considered best on visual inspection while the lambs by the high performance ram killed out better.
Amy attended the Kelso ram sales last year for the first time and found it a fascinating experience with 16 rings all operating simultaneously. She admits to getting carried away by the atmosphere and finished up buying two rams – a Charolais x Texel from Northern Ireland and Texel x Beltex from a Lanark flock.
Cows in the suckler herd are mostly Simmental cross and are mostly put to the Simmental bull, with the Limousin being used on heifers. However, this year a Salers bull has been bought privately from Alastair MacKenzie, Whitebog, Fortrose, because of the Salers reputation for having the largest pelvic area of any beef breed. The bull has put 19 of the 20 heifers he ran with safely in calf.
A high health status has been maintained over the years and the herd is accredited for BVD and leptospirosis. It is 20 years since the last case of Johne’s disease on the farm and the herd has screened negative for IBR.
Conscious that many commercial suckler herds don’t want to calve bought in heifers, 30 additional Simmental cross heifers are being retained this year for serving and are likely to be calved and sold with calves at foot.
Heifers are normally sold as bulling heifers at Dingwall at 12-15 months of age and steers as stores. Some are sold at weaning when price per kilo is generally higher. All calves are weighed regularly to monitor performance.
Around 160 acres of spring barley is grown each year for malting and 50 acres of winter barley for feeding on the farm. Around 150 acres is cut once for silage with the emphasis being on high quality rather than bulk.
Efforts are being made to improve the grassland on the farm, much of which hasn’t been touched for 30 years, and last year 32 acres were reseeded.
The first two Highland Sheep events at Dingwall Mart in 2013 and Fearn Farm in 2015 were a great success and attracted a large attendance of interested sheep farmers. With the reputation of Kinnahaird for high quality stock, and the excellent facilities on the farm, this year’s Highland Sheep is set to be equally successful.