January has started with the usual good intentions, assisted this year by our family participation in the Doddie Gump – organised by Doddie Aid. Our tiny effort of cycling, walking, sledging and quad-bike assisted ski-ing may be a little under average for the many members of Team North and Midlands but it is all adding to our fitness and what is turning into a fabulous amount of money raised for MND research.

Having the kids download the free Strava App onto my phone has been a bonus from this – it has already proved useful in measuring the length of the turnip break, helping budget out the neeps! There are a lot of gaps this year again – a reminder of the very dry spell at sowing. We tried spreading a bit of slurry onto the seedbed to see if it would help retain a bit of moisture, but there was no evidence it helped. The weed seeds are benefitting birdlife though and it is lovely to see little finches enjoying their bounty.

All the Lleyn ewes, bar a handful of special oldies who’s teeth didn’t look up to the job of gnawing frozen neeps for the winter, moved onto swedes just after the New Year. Split in two mobs of around 500, they have 10 to 12 acres each to take them as far through to lambing as possible. With a half a decent yield, this looks comfortable. We have learnt to limit them through daily shifts and they are being supplemented with some second quality hay, straw and sheep minerals offered in the shelter of a re-purposed calf creep feeder.

In contrast, a stubble turnip and forage rape mix after vining peas, has been a cracking crop and finished a lot of lambs quickly – we are a month ahead on lamb sales and averaging £10 up on the year. The 40 that are left are now inside on pellets, allowing ewe hoggs to tidy up the stubble turnips – if they re-appear through the snow and ice.

Texel ewes scanned a bit disappointingly, levelling at 175% with too many empty (8%), letting the side down. A couple of old ewes had an excuse and otherwise a lot of the culprits were gimmers. Taking this blow on the chin is eased by the cull trade – we haven’t had a payment line back yet but are hoping for more than enough to pay for the wintering of the remainder of the flock!

We have not had much snow, but what has landed is mostly still here or turned to ice. Any sheep not on forage crops have been getting hay as any grazing is locked under a hard crust. The ice has postponed some cattle work with fluke dosing due. We have taken the opportunity to get next years’ bull calves all halter broken though. Tally and Angus have been very helpful at this and home-learning has been expanded to include knots and even splicing halters.

School has been a lot more organised this time around and much less time for helping Mum and Dad. Both children should have important exams this spring but they won’t now take place. Tally sat her higher prelims before Christmas but otherwise could in theory could have gone on to higher education without ever having sat an exam.

Hens are adapting very well to being shut inside on their own (Avian flu induced) lockdown – their production is up considerably! One of my main customers is a lovely local café which of course is closed, but fortunately the rising demand through Neighbourfood (virtual farmers market), is more than compensating.

I have spent quite a bit of the last few months on various video conferences and such. I attended Go Rural’s first Agritourism Conference (complete with virtual gin tasting), Angus piped in the haggis for the Church Burns supper by zoom, Neil is looking forward to a virtual Luing sale at Castle Douglas next week, and I have been on the Rural Leadership Programme which has all been done remotely. It has been quite an eye opener – but getting to know the other participants has still been the highlight and the organisers have facilitated this well.

Since the first lockdown our holiday houses have been open as normal for only two months, with a further 3.5 months under restrictions – same as the rest of the hospitality industry. We have been lucky to have had a few key workers stay during the closed period (ranging from a team of fencers working on a forestry project to a specialist polytunnel repair outfit visiting a fruit farm), but income is considerably down.

Being a social person I have enjoyed being part of the Scottish Agritourism Group. It is a great sounding-board and source of knowledge from like-minded businesses and hearing other people’s stories highlights what a huge impact these closures have caused on many farming family’s finances.

However, when we can eventually re-open I am sure demand will soar as 2021 becomes the year of the ‘stay-cation’. Agritourism has been identified as a key-trend by VisitScotland. I would urge any of you with farm-based holiday or food/drink products to get involved with the Scottish Agritourism Group.

In case you are wondering, neither the gin nor the tasting of it was virtual – in fact, I can’t really remember what part was virtual, but I can assure you the Kim’s ‘Bothy Gin’ was enriching to the whole zoom business!