Winter has arrived with a cold bite of air this week and snow on the back hills.

We have killed the fattest calf (and the last three Luing steers) in preparation for Christmas beef orders.

Tups are out with the ewes and the winter routine is getting into place. The draw of the fireside in the evening has become stronger with a litter of pups to cheer us.

Our annual herd testing for Johnes is underway, this year supplemented with our four-yearly TB test, split over two weeks. Some of the herd vaccinations get done at the same time, with the cow herd getting their annual BVD booster.

We have been phasing out lepto vaccination in accordance with our health plan and a screening done this time will, hopefully, allow us to drop this vaccination completely. A few partial screens over the years suggest the herd is free of IBR but at risk, so this year we added an IBR marker vaccine as a bit of a herd insurance policy – and, I think, to help the vet sleep at night.

Calves have been weaned and settled into their straw-bedded courts and winter ration well. They are eating about 12kg of silage a day supplemented with 2kg barley and a protein supplement – a saving in protein with as good a silage analysis as we have had.

There have been some mild, humid days, though, that have been less than ideal for calves inside. We keep bedding topped up with a light spread from a straw-blower every day in an effort to keep things dry.

Calf courts were adapted a few years ago to allow the edge of the feed passage to be scraped every week or so, which I think keeps getting rid of a bit of moisture.

I have a friend who convinced me to take some swabs from water troughs last winter – we didn’t identify anything particularly gruesome, but the act of swabbing the trough highlighted that our hygiene could be better.

To this end, when we have been in the courts with the forklift bucket scraping the side of the feed passages, we have cleaned the water troughs. It only takes a couple of minutes to empty them into the bucket and the clean water must make for healthier rumens.

Gathering finishing lambs off forage crops in the wet weather has been a slithery business and drawing wet, muddy lambs can be a bit of a trauchle. However, at the trade they are returning, I’m finding quite a bit of pleasure in the job!

They are doing really well, with sales well ahead of last year in terms of numbers sold and returns are about £12/head up from this time last year. The last lot averaged £88 after all deductions.

Tups are out working with the main batch of Lleyn ewes and there is little activity amongst the Texel ewes now in their second cycle. Just over 400 have gone to Texel rams, these mostly being ewes that have started off their career with promise, but having made some sort of mistake – from as minor a demeanour as scanning a single as a gimmer, to the more serious crime of upsetting the shepherd at lambing time.

The 400 ewes with Lleyn rams will be split at lambing time into A and B flocks, with ram lambs only kept from the 250 ‘stud’ ewes. Gimmers are bred to the Lleyn and join this probationary ‘B’ flock, are recorded and drawn according to performance the following year. The 160 coming into the flock this year is less than usual, following more sales in the autumn.

The 13 different single-sire Lleyn tupping groups takes a bit of sorting out, with 10 of them being with home-bred sires (mostly ram lambs). We work with three different reports to give us more information.

The first reminds us how the ewe has performed on the ground and together with a visual analysis determined which flock she went to. The second is an in-breeding analysis which identified which rams she can’t go to. The final one is her EBV which we use to identify hidden strengths, or weaknesses that we want to improve in the next generation.

Litter size is probably the main one to get right – trying to find the balance between too many singles and triplets in an effort to increase the twinning rate of the flock. Scanning analysis shows that we are, however, heading in the right direction, but I am unwilling to rule out a few years good luck so far.

Incheoch lies at the bottom of the ‘bonniest of the Angus glens’ and I enjoy getting away up into the hills when I can.

A few weeks ago, I walked up to the very top of Glenisla, not far off the back of the Glenshee ski area. It is quite awesome scenery, looking down from ‘lofty mountain grandeur’, but the view was nothing compared to the wildlife I came across. Stags roaring in the mist all around me amongst many hundreds of red deer hinds.

The dog stumbled over a blue hare, but thought better of trying to pursue as it hurtled up an impossible slope. A pair of Golden Eagles kept watch over me and the only other people I met was a couple trekking on Highland ponies.

A good few covies of red grouse and seven Blackie ewes and (oddly) a Suffolk cross rig, completed Glenisla’s version of the ‘Big 5’.

After reading Debbie’s contribution last month, I ‘remembered’ it was our wedding anniversary. We celebrated with a day away in the hills, driving up to the Linn of Dee, at Braemar and walking in towards the Lairig Ghru for a bit and back out Glen Quoich, on the National Trust for Scotland-managed Marr Lodge Estate.

It was great to see the Caledonian Pine forest regeneration and we were lucky to have a beautiful, clear day with spectacular views. The most common species we saw that day was undoubtedly homo-sapien – they seem to have evolved over lockdown from the bobble-hatted kind to mostly the lycra-clad sort. The contrast to Glenisla was remarkable.

We were sad to say goodbye to our good neighbours, Mossa and Lotta Magnusson, who have returned to Sweden to be closer to family, after a spell breeding, training and trialling dogs in Kilry.

Perhaps their greatest legacy to the area are the folk they have inspired into trial dogs and then sheep – the young Swedish shepherdesses of the glen!

We were kind of hoping for a London financier seeking a rural retreat from Covid-19 that might be looking for a neighbour to help keep the grass down. However, we are delighted that a young family with a keen interest in sheep are our new neighbours.

As the rest of the nation considers who to have in their Christmas bubble, I’m preparing to stretch the rule of eight on Christmas morning to include as many cows as I can get away with.