December at Ballicherry has mainly been spent cutting gorse bushes, putting up electric fences, and shifting ewes onto cover crops, along with a couple of draws of fat lambs and the removal of the tups.

We are hoping to utilise a neighbours cover crops by using electric fencing throughout January, February, and March, as we did last year but on a bigger scale with the early dry harvest allowing more cover crops to be drilled in the autumn. Our hope is that grazing these cover crops it will help return organic matter to the fields while resting our grass fields giving us earlier grass in the spring and reducing our silage and hay usage – a win-win situation for both parties!

Mam, Dad, and I also attended the Scottish Agritourism conference in Perth this month, which was genuinely inspiring and gave us lots of ideas for potential future agritourism ventures from a really enthusiastic bunch of people. Not much has been happening on a farm on the arable front other than firming up our cropping plan for 2023, getting some soil sampling done, a wee bit of drainage, and having a general tidy-up ahead of our farm assurance inspection.

We had our first staff night out in a few years last weekend and it was lovely for everyone to be together, have a few drinks – including some jägerbomb's – and lots of laughs were had. It was however when we were all together that we really noticed those not with us. Elaine, our bookkeeper, of nearly fifteen years sadly passed away at the end of October, aged only 64 and we miss her cheery, upbeat personality along with her wealth of knowledge so much – our thoughts are with her family, especially this Christmas time.

Read more: Rachel Young starts to plan for the spring

Mam and I have been trying to teach ourselves bookkeeping and with neither of us having any prior experience, we managed our first quarter VAT return on Quickbooks with only 15 phone calls to the accountant for help...I wish I was exaggerating but hopefully, it will be easier the next time!

Just at the start of this week, we lost another dedicated member of the Ballicherry team in the shape of a working collie, Jill. Still enjoying her work even though aged nearly 13, she was our main working dog with our pup Maggie being only eight-months-old. She came to take ewes in with Dad and me, and in a freak accident, jumped out of the tractor rather than waiting to be lifted out as she usually would and caught her leg in the tractor step. Unfortunately, she cut her leg deeply and fractured it in four places, and our vet advised putting her to sleep considering her age and pre-existing heart murmur. It was the kindest thing to do, but we are all so gutted to lose such a faithful dog so suddenly, having had her since she was an eight-week-old pup.

We have escaped the worst of the snow on the north side of the Black Isle, although we did experience the bitterly cold snap with -7.5 degrees being the lowest temperature I witnessed, which is still considerably warmer than the temperatures many other folks in the highlands had last week! The wee dusting of snow we’d had has all but gone, however, the big thaw has left our yard like a skating rink. Due to this Mam has taken to using the farm van as a mobility scooter, driving it around the yard rather than walking while feeding her pigs, hens, and retired ewes to avoid any ice-related falls – a wise idea I’d say. I’ve only taken one tumble so far, trying to break the ice on a water trough, and found myself upside down before I’d even known what was happening. Fortunately, I have plenty of padding so was uninjured!

Wishing everyone a peaceful, snow-free and frozen pipe/water trough-free Christmas, as well as a prosperous New Year, and make sure and give your loved ones – including the four-legged ones – an extra big cuddle this festive season.

Farm facts

Rachel farms at her family’s 350-hectare Ballicherry Farm, in the Black Isle, with her parents, Brian and Caroline Matheson. It is mainly arable, growing spring barley, wheat and oilseed rape, though they also have 150 Texel cross ewes, and overwinter 100 head of cattle.