The winter months are a time for preparation and repairs on the farm ready for the next year, with our first busy period, as we see the days lengthen and temperatures rise, like many others, lambing time.

The ewes and hoggs have been scanned to give us a good indication of the size and dates that our lambing groups will follow. This year they appear relatively even, which is particularly beneficial as it spreads the work load evenly.

We scanned just after Christmas and the results have shown a slight rise in the number of ewes scanned empty compared to what we have recorded in previous years. Last year saw 17 empty ewes compared to 49 in this years results. The number scanned for twins however is higher than in 2017, so hopefully all being well, this should help to make up for the deficit of lamb.

After discussions with my father, it appears that a similar trend of more yeld sheep, was seen after the wet weather of 1985.

Empty ewes will be sold through Forfar Market. We feel there is no free space to carry passengers and a year is a long time to keep ewes in the hope that they will successfully breed the following season.

Grass is all but gone here for this year and as a result we have started to support our furthest in lamb ewes nutritionally with silage bales and are allowing them access to strip graze turnips to ensure they maintain strength and condition.

Each scanned group will be supported in this manner as they head closer to their lambing date. In addition to this, all of the ewes and ewe hoggs will be dosed for fluke for the upcoming season as they will be remaining on farm.

It can be easy to forget about the tups at this time, as they have performed for the year and are now enjoying well earned rest. However, we feed them the same as the ewes to ensure they do not loose condition through the winter months.

Many question whether it is beneficial to further support ewes in lamb with twins or triplets with additional feeding – providing singles a normal ration, twins double and triplets even more. We trialled this a few years ago with very little success. We found that if the single scanned mother was fed what we would classify a normal ration, she was able to support her own lamb, but did not have extra milk to support a twin on.

Triplet mothers were often healthy themselves but produced, as expected, only average size lambs, thus showing that additional feeding did not automatically mean three larger lambs.

Our aim is always, where possible, to enable all ewes to mother two lambs. But again with the introduction of additional feeding, we saw that the triplet lamb was not strong enough to be twinned with a single and therefore the increased nutritional support had no real benefit, yet had a negative financial impact due to feeding costs. Hence, the decision was made to continue to feed all ewes the same and they have been milking well and producing good sized lambs.

The pure ewes that we breed our home-bred tups from are are due to start lambing in February and they are treated no differently than the commercial sheep. They are kept on grass and supplied with silage before bringing them in to lamb. It is imperative that when a tup lamb is born its strength, shape and suckling abilities are watched closely as it develops. If it is weak or needs continued support then this could be traits seen in its offspring. These are not breeding lines that we want to introduce to the large commercial flock. For our future pure flock we will keep only the best male and female lambs and the rest will be fattened and sold through the Market.

Our cows have now all been moved indoors for the start of calving next month. Our preparations with the cattle are very similar to that of the sheep flock. The cows have been dosed for fluke and had their bolus of selenium, cobalt, copper and iodine to once again ensure optimum health. We have a few pens of fattening cattle nearly finished and as these are emptied over the next couple of weeks the areas will be set up for the newborn calves and mothers.

It is disappointing that the cattle price is falling. The only way, I feel, to enable farmers to increase cattle numbers is to keep the price of the finished product high. It takes a huge amount of time, work, effort and man power to produce cattle and as a result, if the price keeps dropping the number of cattle kept by farmers will follow suit.

There has been talk of the Government needing to support farmers with subsidies to encourage production. This is to ensure that there are the numbers available to go through slaughter houses to meet demand. Personally I feel that 20p-30p per kg increase on current prices would be far more beneficial to the farmer than any subsidy.

Going forward it is important to continue to work hard, control costs and ensure self sufficiency is paramount to all aspects of farming. The one thing we cannot control however is the weather, so lets hope it is on our side in 2018.