I remember my Grand-father telling me that “you can stay at home until you ken nowt – and you can gallivant away ‘til you hae nowt!”

I think he was trying to encourage me to remember to strike a balance. This last month seems to be a bit out of kilter with too many trips away culminating in ‘meeting overload’ which I hit last week – so I’ve put away my clean boots and I’m staying at home a while.

I had three Bull Sale trips. I watched the Shorthorn and Angus shows out of interest and was entertained by some quality bulls; good showmanship and judging; and some great craic around the ring. Daydreaming at a meeting in the UA Board Room a few weeks later and looking at old photographs on the wall highlights just how far these two breeds have come in only 60 or 70 years. There were a lot of bulls that didn’t get a second look this spring that would have been outstanding only 20 years ago – and I wonder what the men in the tweed suits in the black and white photographs would have thought of them?

The Simmental sale was a flier for a quality show of commercial bulls throughout, and a few stars which the judge made sure didn’t slip by un-noticed. I didn’t just find the next step we are looking for – but I will be keeping a close eye on sons coming forward from a particular bull in the future. Part of the job of pedigree breeding is building knowledge about pedigrees – I suppose you could call it ‘R and D’ – I think my Grand-father would approve of that trip.

Slotted in between was the Castle Douglas Luing Sale – where we did find the bull we were looking for. We weren’t particularly needing a Luing bull, but homozygous polled bulls out of 15-year-old cows with a 366-day calving interval, good udder and teat scores; bang-on on their feet and legs; with a nice outlook and a cracking set of t.. t.. tools between his back legs don’t just grow on trees.

I was glad to relinquish the chair of the Luing Cattle Society at their agm having completed my two-year stint. I used to think that the people who took these jobs on had a different outlook to the world and ambitions that I didn’t understand. However, I have grown to realise they are mostly just dutifully taking their turn and placing their shoulder to the wheel when the need arises. The baton is handed over.

The Luing bull trade was fantastic – with a near £1000 jump in average on a good sale last year, but heifers were back and looked cheap. I think people who are in cows are confident to invest in the right bull – but there just aren’t many folk with the confidence to put on a herd of cows at the minute.

That was clear in the other two meetings I’ve been at. Both on-farm meetings. Both focused on cutting cow wintering costs. Both meetings sold out, attendance high and people far-travelled and engaged in trying to find a better way. I get the feeling that people are not looking to tinker around the edges, but set on pretty major system changes if they can work out how.

The antidote to too many meetings is nearly here anyway – calving and lambing is about to get under way and the days seem to be stretching by a good half hour’s extra work every day this week. It’s make or break time for a suckler enterprise over the next couple of months – we are dealing with calving and conception, and the 60-80 days turnaround to get the two things right that will have the biggest effect on profitability. Time to buckle down and pay attention at home!

Ground conditions are good. More than four inches of rain in January gives a wetter total than last year so far, but it feels like it’s been a grand spell. Dry fields have allowed us to tidy up stones around field corners and bringing home more felled timber still part of the Storm Arwen clean-up. There is some new fencing underway for hedge planting through a recently successful environmental scheme.

RSPB say that 50% of our UK hedges were lost after WW2 in the collective push for greater food output. The Climate Change Committee now recognise the benefit of hedges in terms of carbon and biodiversity and give us a target of 7000km per year of new planting over the UK between now and 2050.

This Incheoch AECS scheme will send us 1.5km towards that target. We have grown to appreciate the benefit of shelter and more secure field boundaries, as well as the increased birdlife – and sloes ….and you know what sloes make?!

The May lambing main lot of ewes have scanned well overall at 183%. The highlight being the gimmers that were in better condition than we normally would have them at tupping time. They scanned at 182% (up from 163%), with 70% twins. The poorest scanning group were a disappointing 166% with a third singles. I’d taken my eye off the ball with this group pre-tupping and they had dropped in condition a bit and averaged 0.2 BCS below the main group and are probably still about the same. However, when you look into the individual ewes – the singles don’t tend to be in the leaner ewes. Instead, they tend to be the ewes that had singles last year too – and that is why they were with the Texel ram.

The stud ewes make up the rest at a very pleasing 199% – but the 18% triplets is higher than normal and adds a bit of risk to that headline figure!

So the good news from that is that the young ewes entering the flock are improving, and we have been reasonably successful at picking out the poorest performing ewes – and they have already fallen out of the breeding programme.

Calf sales started last week with rising yearling Simmental cross Luing steers off to Stirling. Remarkably they were the exact same weight and on the same week as last year, and at £1209 through the ring returned an increase of £118. Most of that is out-with our control, but the big win for us is that we got 12 more calves in that top draw this time, as it included the whole crop of Simmental crosses. There was quite a buzz around the ring too – even at 6pm when we went through – and those hardy drovers had a lot of cattle still to wander about at that time.

The vet student has started to send home encouraging messages like ‘why don’t we do this?’ and ‘you really should be changing that!’. The younger child is concentrating more on driving lessons, rugby training …and even gathering stones – than school work. Hopefully some college/university open days will help focus his mind on upcoming exams which the education authorities very thoughtfully have timed to finish just before we start the main lambing.

Daffodils are showing promise, but I think we might have lambs from early lambing Texel ewes before many blooms. The snowdrops are wealthy in their abundance this spring and have shown remarkable resilience to some fierce frosts. The azalea which was gifted as a wedding present has been a shining inspiration to us in perseverance – we think it has only flowered once in 22 years, and this year again, was showing great fortitude in bud despite a clear forecast for the coldest night of the year.

Of course, the best thing about going away is the feeling of being more pleased with your lot when you get home. We were treated to the most spectacular show of the Northern Lights the other night framed by the hills at the top of the glen – one of the most magical things you could see – and from the glorious setting of the wee field at the back of the house. It’s grand to be at home...