A challenging spring is behind us and we now can look forward to the month ahead. It is a time when the farm is looking at its best with both crops and youngstock beginning to show their potential and are starting to motor.

The Caithness countryside is looking as good as it ever has, which is ironic considering the extremely poor month of April that held everything back.

With less than ideal sowing conditions, some areas of poor establishment had been expected. However this has not been the case with both spring oats and barley being very well established throughout. Oats have been rocketing through the growth stages at an almost alarming rate due to the amount of heat and water that has been available to it throughout May and it is going to be a challenge to keep the sprayer on target to complete growth regulator applications at the right timings.

Walking through the Sassy and Firefox barley, the plants all look healthy and have tillered well, although it does look rather short and does not seem to have benefited from the same massive growth spurt as the oats. A lot can happen in the next three weeks though and we will have a better idea of what the end result is going to be at the end of June.

For the third year running we will be continuing our intensive application programme of foliar feeding of both macro and micro nutrients. Most of these products are tank mixed with our general weed and fungicide programmes although we do have to apply an extra application right at the start at the leaf two stage. This extra pass is of course a hassle but it is vital to the foliar plan to have this nitrogen/potassium product applied to the young leaf to encourage a larger root growth and capture more moisture and nutrition in the soil.

Yields have increased substantially in both oats and barley since the introduction of this regime and it has also allowed us to reduce the amount of granular nitrogen while at the same time increasing standing power which is essential for the volatile harvests we get here. We are constantly tweaking the type of products and timings to suit our situation but it is clear that feeding our crops little and often at a low volume through the leaf is the way forward for us.

Calving is still in full swing with the majority of calves being born in May and June. The 20 purchased in-calf heifers were calved down a bit earlier in February/March and unfortunately we incurred our fair share of issues with them. Currently, all replacements are bought in as either in-calf heifers or young cows with calves at foot.

The main calving of the cow herd however has been going extremely well with very few issues with any of the Charolais, Angus and Stabiliser sired calves. They have all been lively and up and sucking which has made for an easy time.

The Stabiliser breed is a new addition with two bulls purchased last summer. The initial idea is to breed our own replacements but we will have to assess how the Stabiliser males perform in our bull beef system compared to our Charolais. If there is going to be a huge fall in output then the advantage that is gained by breeding our own Stabiliser heifer replacements will be lost. As with everything in cattle breeding, it is a long process and we won’t know the bull beef results until next summer.

On the sheep side, lambs have all had their first Heptavac vaccine. We were lucky that the lambing started just as the weather improved and we seem to have more lambs on the ground than normal. Lambing as always was carried out by Colin Mackay and this year we also had assistance for a month from James Mackay who helped to lighten the load. You really can’t have enough hands on deck during the spring and it is all much appreciated.

Lamb growth rates on the other hand appear to be slightly behind for some reason, despite plenty grass and ewes being in good condition for milking. They are quite a level bunch of lambs and there is not many down in the bottom end which is good but there also doesn’t seem to be the usual amount of 'thumpers' going about either. At the moment I’m just making a visual assessment as we don’t start weighing until much later on but if growth rates don’t catch up by clipping time, we might consider a mineral drench to give them a boost.

Over the next couple of weeks we will be working towards getting everything in order to allow an escape to one of our highlights of the year, the Highland Show. It is always a great chance to get a few well earned days away from home and catch up with pals from all around the country.