We saw the New Year in with great style in Kilry Hall, royally entertained by Stow’s greatest showman – Stuart Anderson, known to many from the sheep lines at the Highland Show.

A quick google search places Stuart in the company of Scottish musical genius’. Surprisingly, however, the list of the top 50 greatest accordionists of all time woefully omits him – along with Jimmy Shand and Fergie MacDonald – they’re not on it either!

With joints well lubricated with Hogmanay hospitality, we took to the floor after a three-year Covid-induced absence, and I wasn’t the only one distraught that right steps to weel-kent dances just wouldn’t come to the toes. The dance floor was like the photograph taken on the day that Sweden changed the law from driving on the left to the right side of the road – Carnage.

By the end of the night, most feet were pointing in the right direction and we slid off home over the ice with renewed enthusiasm for community events. Whist drives have encountered the same problem – some of us have forgotten how to play. And it’s not just rusty joints or brain-pathways that are feeling the plights of disuse, a creaky kitchen floor has unearthed a larger problem for the village hall – thank goodness for windfarm grants for community projects.

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A quiet spell on the farm around the festive period was helped by a good bit of hard frost and little snow. We got a lot of dung out of cattle courts and have calving pens cleaned, disinfected and ready for six weeks’ time.

We have halter-broken 26 bull calves. Each batch of seven get tied up and handled for an hour or so for three or four consecutive days. Although they will be sold out in the paddock and need little preparation in the run up to sale day (the last day of August this year), haltering means any handling can be easy in all the years to come. The process brings to a head any temperament issues, and one further character has consigned himself to the cull pen based on his ‘disregard for instruction’.

The final lambs left the farm on the first week of January bringing home a few pennies short of £100 with all deductions and haulage off.

The average value for the season is £100.76 which is back £9 on the year, but up £6 on the year before. I am celebrating the early finish with 75% of lambs gone by tups-out date, we have seen a big improvement on where we were a few years ago. The biggest difference is probably just in mindset ‘every day is a growing day’, and targeting ewes and lambs on better feed all the time.

Ewes have spent January on barley stubbles with hay in feeders and will move onto kale/stubble turnips shortly which should see them all through to scanning – and hopefully some a little further. We will need to change how swedes are sown this year to avoid a shortage again.

Texel ewes are a month closer to lambing than the main lot and have already been scanned. A disappointingly high number of empties (7%), with analysis pointing to no particular issue. Frustration was curtailed by a return of £166 through the ring for empties.

Those in-lamb are holding a good crop (191%), and overall 177% to the tup is marginally up on last year. In-lamb ewes are split into three groups based on scan (with condition and age altering a handful), and are biding time on grass fields. Multiples will start on a wee bite of rolls six weeks out from lambing.

The last three, and poorest, cull ewes from the autumn took a trip to Aberdeen vet lab as flock sentinels, checking for any underlying health problems. Reports have shown up nothing concerning so far, but all three had ‘dental disease affecting molars.’ As one was 10-years-old and the other two, six-years, that’s probably understandable.

I heard a vet speak a few years ago on a major post-mortem project in England which showed up the main cause of death in old, poor ewes was cancer or dental problems. I guess we’re all going to die of something.

Cows are in good form and silage and straw stocks are lasting out well. Calves were drenched for fluke last week and we clipped their backs again as they were starting to sweat in the thaw. The last batch are still to do, but so far most groups are slightly ahead of last year. Improved silage quality will be helping, and these calves have had a good go all the way through – it’s the combination of a lot of little things.

The last calf was born three weeks earlier than the previous year, so the calves were three days older on average at weaning. That was expressed in 6kg ahead at weaning on the year.

Early winter gains are up by 0.1kg/hd which all results in about 15kg more weight at this point. Over 190 calves, that comes to close to 3tonnes or the equivalent of the seven calves that should have been here had it not been to a bit of bad luck over scanning and calving.

So perhaps we are no further ahead – but it goes to show these marginal gains add up.

The principle of ‘you can’t manage without measuring’ was at the heart of the idea of welcoming Patrick ‘the bug man’ onto the farm in the spring. He was looking to count bugs on grassland on a conventionally run farm and compare to an organic farm that was in the process of rewilding.

Armed with butterfly nets, light-traps for moths, and beetle traps (which looked a lot like plastic beer tumblers with a Blue Peter modification), he spent many days (and nights) trying to get a measure of biodiversity on the farm.

Results were better than expected with 27 different varieties of beetles being one highlight and just over 5000 moths to count and classify over three nights his biggest challenge. This will be repeated over the next four years before any conclusions can be drawn but looking very positive so far.

Projects for the year have just taken a giant leap forward with the long-awaited environmental scheme application getting the green light last week. The first priority is now sourcing hedge plants, getting them in the ground and fenced. The job needs to be completed this calendar year and realistically the next seven to eight weeks is the ideal timescale. But we can’t start without a contract, and it’s not here yet!

Creation of water margins should help with stock movements, hedges with lambing field shelter and some diffuse pollution control will hopefully look like sorting up some drainage and old concrete in the farm yard. Thanks to RSPB for advice and helping pull together the story which should create and enhance a significant habitat area for lapwings and curlews on a network of local farms. We will have wader scrapes to dig and grazing restrictions to adhere to.

Holiday cottages are slow to let, but are generally kept booked up a few weeks ahead – many with repeat visitors who perhaps haven’t been for a few years. We have this weeks’ guests armed with binoculars and a clipboard to take part in the Big Farmland Bird Count. If you can’t measure it – you can’t manage it.