By Neil McGowan

The big news this week is that we’ve just had a whole day with no rain – but we’ve had more than six-inches in February and still the best part of a week to go until the end of the month.

I find it hard to understand that we may have got off lightly compared to some of you.

Ewes on swedes are not a good colour but they don’t seem to mind the trauchle through the mud to the break fence every morning. Another batch which have gone through the winter so far on deferred hill park grazing and silage at ring feeders don’t look any cleaner.

Scanning is next week, when we will get a better idea of how they are wintering. The plan is to take triplets and under-conditioned twins off the turnips as we go back through after scanning, dose for fluke and record scan result on the eid reader.

The main batch of Lleyn ewes don’t start lambing until the last week of April and another lot are into May.

An early mob is due at the end of March and should have had their Heptavac vaccine by now – looking for a dry day. They scanned fairly well – a small lot of draft Lleyn ewes at 201% and pure Texels 182%.

The Texel result hides a disappointingly high share of empties. There are only seven, so it’s hard to identify a trend, but I’m putting it down to some of the younger ewes not ‘bouncing back’ in condition very well.

Perhaps we could have managed them a bit better, but the less excuses we make for these pedigree ewes, the more they behave like a flock of ewes ought to. The 102 that are in-lamb scanned 194%, and I’m looking forward to getting the cheque for the empties.

We reported last month that we had clipped calves’ backs a second time and hoped it would stimulate appetite and growth rates. The breeding bull and heifer calves got their first BVD and Lepto vaccine when this happened, so have been back through the crate for their second shot with a month’s growth between.

At first weigh, heifer calves had both only gained 0.8kg/day from weaning, but since then Sim cross Luings have gained an average of 1.7kg and pure Luings 1.2kg. The diet is still the same, although silage intake continues to increase.

It may be down to the clipping, or just that the days are lengthening when they seem to thrive better anyway. When you look at individual performance, calves are mostly balancing out – those that had done best before having slowed up and vice-versa.

The calf that boasted the best weaning ratio (kg calf/kg cow at weaning) has had a lower than average gain both times – she lost the milk fat that she weaned with and isn’t going to be the biggest (just like her mother).

Steers are looking similarly on the thrive. In the interest of listening to market signals of selling before 450kg (and because we could use the space at an impending shuffle around for calving), the strongest Simmental cross steers are to be sold store this week, a few weeks earlier than previously.

Their equivalent last year were hovering about 200p/kg and £900, and the year before 225p/kg and £1000. We can’t really afford for the trend to continue.

Lamb sales are nearly through. By the time you read this we will know the final tally for last year’s crop. We have made a few errors in our lamb finishing this season – we could blame wet weather for most of them, if that would help?

Poorer than expected quantity of autumn grazing after delayed silage, lower yielding forage crops on water-logged ground and lambs eating rape in the rain and not thriving as expected. It turns out these are some of the best paying mistakes we have made – gaining the advantage to the upturn in the lamb market.

Prime lambs will return an average of £82 home (after all deductions) this year. This compared with £78 and £79 in the two previous years, both which had stronger starts.

We’ve had a few trips to bull sales lately. No business done but, as a breeder, it is important to build up a picture in your mind of how pedigrees are built – how bulls are breeding, what a sire looked like on sale day and maybe who’s herd you need to visit to get a look at a bull calf in the future.

We now offer all our bulls at an on-farm sale, where they are shown in much more natural condition – no cut and blow-dry or hairspray and much less use of the trough. I am content that this is better for buyer, seller and bull, and I’m happy with how it’s working out.

I think it will take time to build and there will no doubt be some hiccoughs along the way. However, my earliest childhood memories are being involved with selling our bulls at these sales and they are part of our family tradition. I miss the drama of being involved.

It was great to see many friends’ dreams come to fruition this month. The elation when it all comes together! Similarly, I know what it feels like to have a bull you are really proud of not receive a bid – it’s a lonely place, standing in the ring, trying to hold a smile when the auctioneer says ‘not today’.

Finally, just back from a very well run, thought provoking day at ‘MEAT: The Future’ with QMS. Heads are buzzing with phrases like ‘Livestock can be part of the solution to climate change’ and ‘Scotland could be the home of climate friendly food production’.

After a journey home jostling with commuters on the train, I’ll be glad to get into wellies and trauchle in the mud in the morning.