By Neil McGowan

It is a bit concerning that we are nearly through the second month of the year and we haven’t achieved much yet other than dealing with weather. There was the briefest moment of spring-fever from some of the team this week however, with a longer evening and winter coats off for a day.

With the benefit of hindsight, knowing that we were going to deal with four weeks of snow and ice I think we would have done a number of things differently:

Firstly, I might have asked Santa for a pair of gloves rather than the new shirt that came – I doubt I’ll have much use for it for a while anyway. Secondly, we should have taken ewes off swedes for a month and fed silage on the frozen ground when we had the chance. I feel we have squandered a lot of their forage between ewes getting over snow-covered fences and not being able to eat right down through the bulbs. We are going to have to explore Plan B for feeding some of the ewes from now on. Scanning is tomorrow, as I write, so I’ll get a better feeling for their condition then, but they give the impression of being in great form despite the conditions.

When we are on hindsight, I should have found time before Christmas to get more water troughs turned off (although, so far, it seems like I may have got away with that). And lastly, it was not a good idea to try the pickup through that last snow drift. I shovelled snow for 40 minutes before I had to admit defeat and phone Debbie to come with the tractor and pull me out!

Children have got skis dusted off and had some fun on the better days. We can see the back of Glas Moal from the farm – one of my favourite runs at Glenshee.When the sun has shone, I have found myself drawn to gaze in that direction. It must be incredibly frustrating for the skiing industry to have such great conditions this year. They don’t get many chances of a good harvest and this winter would have been a bumper crop – but they just aren’t allowed to get going.

Texel ewes got a Heptivac at the weekend in readiness for lambing which is about five weeks away. They were in good order, although we took the chance to take a couple out of the twin lot into the triplet group to correct for dropping body condition.

There was an exciting box of goodies delivered this week as part of our application to SACGS (Sustainable Agriculture Capital Grant Scheme). A couple of electronic wizardry devices for reading and recording sheep EIDs.

Our current readers have started to become a bit unreliable, and we worked out that they are older than our children. Tally is trying to book the theory part of her driving test, so that give some perspective – but she still enjoyed waving a ‘magic wand’ at the ewe hoggs as they went through the race for a fluke drench this week. The newer versions promise to be a bit quicker with less cables. I hope they last as well as the old ones – Debbie won’t be throwing the old ones away …just in case!

We harvested about six acres of timber about 18 months ago which is due to be replanted. After much discussion we have opted to move from the original Sitka Spruce to broadleaved natives – mostly oak and birch with some Scots pine. We think we were lucky with the market and will come out of the exercise with a healthy enough share but will miss the shelter over the next few years.

Taking into consideration the amount of Sitka that has been recently planted and gambling on a market 40 years’ hence, we opted for the potential higher value of carbon credits for broadleaved trees in the future, longer lifespan of shelter, no harvesting concerns for a couple of generations, and the ecosystem benefits in the meantime. Our opinion was swayed by the younger generation who will need to deal with the outcome in any case – environmental concerns are very strong on their agenda. They reminded us that the tree ‘top-trumps’ cards had oak as a winner, supporting 280 different species of insect and that species such as oak and hazel are more effective at storing carbon dioxide, three times that of a conifer wood.

Our tree planting contractor has also had a difficult winter, so we have been trained up to get some of the planting done ourselves. When the ground was still a bit frozen last week, we removed tree guards from a similar block that was planted 10 years ago on some unused ground – it has been pleasant work – sheltered and amongst the bird-song.

A temperature swing of 25 degrees over 10 days has shifted all the snow and is still bringing more flooding down burns from higher up.

Calves have mostly had an overdue fluke drench now that ice has gone from the yards. Weights are not quite comparable with last year as timing is different, but gains per day are up, matching what we see – and what silage analysis predicted.

Simmental cross Luing steers averaged 450ks and have gained 1.3kg per day since weaning which we are very pleased with. The two batches of replacement heifers (pure Simmental and Luing) have both done about 1kg per day and are developing nicely on a lesser ration, aiming for a decent bulling weight come June/July. Luing heifer calves came over the scales fairly tightly around an average of 390kg, which maybe puts them ahead of target.

Cows are getting into calving quarters – off slats and home from an out-wintering block. They get a couple of trace element boluses and a vaccine for rotavirus and split into early and later calvers. We replace tags, take a snip of hair off around their ear to make identification easier and make sure they have a clean tail to help udder hygiene when they are in the crate.

With first calves due from a home-bred Luing bull, a new group of heifers, and three embryos due from a polled Simmental mating we organised in Canada, the anticipation of calving brings its own form of spring fever.