Well it’s still wet! It’s pretty easy to see which ewes have been tupped lately by the mud on their sides.

We don’t use keel for the first cycle and by the time you read this, we will have gathered up the ram lambs and mobbed all the little lots of ewes up so that the older rams cover everything for the second cycle.

They start off the second cycle with keel so that any of the cross-over lambs get an accurate sire attributed.

One of the great perks of a Nuffield Scholarship is that after it’s all done and dusted, some day when you’re back to wellie boots and porridge, an e-mail will pop up with a traveller looking to see how you do things on this side of the world. Having done a bit of travelling, we both know that folks usually really need some washing done and a bit of time being part of a family.

We’ve been lucky to have some interesting visitors who have stopped by over the last few years for anything from a few hours to a few months. Some have left behind recipes or card games, others have left ‘farm hacks’ like how to cross a temporary electric fence on a quad bike*, most have left friendship and stories which I hope will inspire our kids to travel. It is especially nice at this time of year to hear back from around the world.

Something that keeps me motivated when plodging about in the mud, thinking that farming is hard when it rains too much – is that this year, we’ve heard from folk trying to farm when it doesn’t rain and that looks a whole lot harder.

My sister, Clare, tells me that the annual rainfall is 43-inches at time of writing, with two weeks of the year left – which is about the rolling five-year average, and we’re going to have to get an inch a day to beat the top score in that time. The 14-inches over ‘harvest time’ made 2019 a special challenge, however.

Our sheep vet, Ed, had been taking blood samples from a batch of lambs over the summer and autumn to find out at what point they have encountered a fluke challenge. November showed some movement and December has gone positive. We have split off smaller lambs and treated them.

We are drawing prime lambs regularly every 10 days or so. They are all tagged now, so when they go through the combi-clamp we get a gain per day along with a weight.

We can set the ‘yellow box’ to count how many are in the next weight range, giving us a clue on how many might be ready for the next draw. They come off the forage crop to draw the morning before they go and stay inside with a bit of hay on offer. They are uplifted the next day for Turriff and killed the following morning.

Coming off rape, lambs are killing out well – even weighing with full-bellies and usually wet, a 42kg lamb is coming back at 19-20kg, 60:40 R and U grade, 60:40 3L and 3H.

We must have treated six calves now for pneumonia over the last few weeks. The constant variation in temperature and muggy days is being blamed. The affected calves have been weaned for six weeks, have settled well and were vaccinated at housing.

We don’t usually have a problem, but it seems a common complaint locally.

Halter-breaking bull calves is stopping us wearying on wet days. We try to get at least three days on the trot with calves tied up to a rail and getting a good comb to start the process. The job is a lot easier before the bull is much more than double the weight of the two of us at our end of the rope.

A report came back from the Beef Efficiency Scheme, benchmarking our herd performance. Bragging rights goes to a 363-day calving interval for just short of 600 calvings.

Otherwise, I’m not sure what we ought to be taking from the report other than the camaraderie in knowing that other people lose calves too, and we’ve been scoring some things inaccurately. Hopefully, more to come from this scheme.

These dark, wet days are a good time to get some business planning done. We are working out a plan for fields for soil sampling and there is a lot of data to go into a benchmarking programme through the local Monitor Farm if we get motivated enough!

It is the end of the accounting year, too and as I write, the office floor is covered with piles of receipts, tinsel, baubles and invoices.

We enjoyed going along to Forfar Mart pre-Christmas for ‘Carols in the Mart’. It was good to meet up with folks and get a good sing-along. The event also raised funds for RSABI – and we are pleased to be a ‘business supporter’ of this great cause.

If you are needing a New Year’s resolution, or maybe missed getting someone important a Christmas present – it’s not too late to make up for it by joining them (or you) up as an RSABI supporter. I know they need all the help they can get.

Finally, it’s too late for an appeal for help from me. What do you get your farming-wife for Christmas? I felt as if I should make the effort to try and find something that she can’t claim the VAT back on?

When I wrote this, I was running out of time – I’ll let you know what I got!

If you are wondering: line up the bike at 45 degrees, stick out your foot to drop the first wire under the lead wheel and if you’ve got the angle right the other wheels will take care of the rest of the job.