I wish I had a pound for every time I’ve read or heard: 'what a difference a year makes' in the last six weeks. The reality is of course that the weather, working conditions, and crop and grass growth over that time has been unrecognisable to that we endured last year.

It isn’t often that no matter what or when your lambing/calving system are, conditions have been near perfect. Lamb/calf survival will generally have been very good, and strong, healthy newborns are off to a great start. I aways take great comfort when ewes which have only recently lambed, are so full off fresh spring grass that they are difficult to distinguish from their un-lambed mates without close inspection.

Many will have taken the opportunity to have made significant savings in the volume, if not the total cost, of hideously expensive concentrate feed and spring nitrogen. It may be prudent to give considerable thought to the near certainty that we won’t be favoured with such idyllic conditions every year and make judgements on the possible alternative ways of reducing our dependence on these expensive inputs.

My big concern is that many businesses will simply cut output in the pursuit of lower input costs. It has never been more important for Scottish Agriculture to maintain production levels, retain critical mass and spread fixed costs, both at farming business and industry level, over as much high-quality product as possible.

With our first lambing cycle just coming to an end, we haven’t yet had time to do our first post lambing grass measure, but it is clear to see that growth through April will have been as strong as we’ve had for a long time.

A kind winter never saw soil temperatures too low for any length of time, so when the regular light frosts of March were over, the grass was ready to rock! Cattle were all turned out or off winter bale grazing by mid-April and haven’t needed any buffer feeding since.

Triplet ewes went onto grass rotation with 450g/day of concentrate supplement around March 20, at the time of clostridial vaccine. Twin-bearing ewes finished swedes around April 10, and went onto grass. We managed these ewes through the winter and lambing without having received any concentrate supplement at all and only a very limited amount of silage.

Ewes and gimmers came out of the winter in great order which allowed us to limit pre-lambing drench to only around 25 leaner ewes. Much work has been done around the periparturient rise in faecal egg counts in ewes at this time of year, with several different strategies to deal with it being touted. We opt to have faith in the studies which show that ewe body condition and availability of high-quality feed has the biggest influence on worm egg shedding and haven’t routinely drenched ewes at this, or any other time of the year for that matter, for several years now.

These twin-bearing ewes and gimmers were kept on rotation almost right up to the point of lambing. On hindsight this was my schoolboy error for the season so far. Normal practice would be to have these ewes set-stocked at least a week before lambing starts. However, in my 'wisdom' I thought that we had time to give all the paddocks a short sharp graze with bigger groups of ewes which would really help stimulate grass growth.

The downside became apparent when the ewes, especially the gimmers took a few days longer than expected to settle in their assigned lambing paddocks when they were eventually set-stocked. This led to far more miss mothering than we have had for a number of years and gave us a deal more work than we should have had to encourage a few gimmers that they actually now owned two cuddly little bundles, rather than the one that they seemed to be more than happy with!

The improvement in maternal ability of our ewes has improved steadily since we started lambing outdoors and deselecting any dam lines that let us down on that front. The biggest difference is evident amongst the gimmers where I am now, generally, amazed at how these first-time mums can lamb and keep track of their newborns, even towards the end of lambing when the paddocks, and especially the 'favourite spots' are very busy with much older lambs. This growing confidence lets us now stock these lambing ewes at a higher rate than we did previously.

With only around 50 ewes to lamb in the second cycle, the end is in sight. Thanks must go again to the whole team who helped lambing go pretty smoothly.

So now we look forward to cows and hinds starting to calve any day. They have also wintered very well and look in great shape for calving. Yearling cattle and deer have been out on rotation for a while now and the stags especially are fairly starting to bloom. The hind calves which we out wintered have been noticeably slower in casting their old coats. Time will tell if they will be the same weight as normal by the rut.

With the decision having been made to absolutely minimise, and hopefully cut out, nitrogen applications onto grazing ground, we look forward to a summer of careful grazing management to maximise grass growth and utilization. We don’t intend however to reduce nitrogen applications onto brassica crops or silage, other than perhaps experimenting with foliar urea applications.

Having watched on as Jamie Leslie in Shetland has done this, there seems to be real potential to significantly reduce total nitrogen use without any yield reduction. With fertiliser prices as they are, the financial saving could be well worthwhile, whilst also reducing the environmental impact of our business.

As I explained to our student Ben following my error of judgement with the lambing gimmers, 'you’ll never stop making mistakes, but you’re hopefully never too old to learn'.

FARM facts

Jim Logan and family, partnership farm his mother’s 630ha (520ha effective) upland farm at Pirntaton in the Scottish Borders. They run 1620 ewes, 110 suckler cows and 340 red hinds. Focus is on developing a low intervention, pasture-based system, and the breeding and sale of livestock genetics to compliment it.