A HEALTHY audience of over 30 crofters and farmers gathered last weekend on the Isle of Skye to hear from experts on all the stages of managing cows for suckled calf production.

The Suckler Cow and Bull Management Workshop was timely, organised under the Scottish Government’s Farm Advisory Service programme, and delivered by SAC Consulting, ahead of the landmark calf sale at Portree next week.

The workshop was held in Sassaig Shed, belonging to host farmer Donald John MacInnes, where the family run 60 hill type suckler cows and 1200 hill ewes at the adjacent farms of An Cnoc and Ord.

The fields are well maintained, limed and reseeded regularly – but the hill ground is rough, and Skye weather not known for its kindness. The cows therefore have to be of a hardy type, yet still produce store calves that will go on to grow well in more favourable conditions.

The MacInnes’s sell weaned calves in September, as did the majority of the audience, so they were interested to hear market prospects from Ian Tolmie of Dingwall and Highland Marts.

He said: “The upcoming calf sale, on Monday, September 18, has as big an entry as ever. We are fortunate to have regular buyers who like to secure healthy, quality calves from Skye that suit their systems.”

Senior beef specialist with SAC Consulting, gavin Hill, gave a market update, and advised that creep feeding helped calves add weight, settle in well when mixed, and thrive: “Finishers want cattle earlier so they can finish them quicker. The market trends for lighter carcasses actually favour the Skye system of selling good quality weaned calves at around seven months.”

Another expert, former NFU Scotland president Nigel Miller, outlined the most important production diseases and how to protect a herd through biosecurity and vaccination: “Skye has an excellent foundation for supplying disease free animals for both breeding and finishing on the mainland. Progress made on eradicating BVD puts them at the forefront of Scottish calf producers.”

The winner of the under-12s stock-judging competition held at the workshop was Donnie MacDiarmid, of Eynort – and his high score would have meant he was a joint winner in the Open Section. The joint winners of the Open Section were A MacAskill, of Drynoch; Iain Martin, of Glenuacharch; and Iain MacKinnon, of Elgol.