By Rachel Young, Ballicherry Farm, Black Isle

SO far, 2018 has brought a prolonged period of frost and snow to the Black Isle for the first time in a good number of years.

This has meant that we have still been unable to get on with any winter ploughing and that jobs like feeding sheep and cattle have taken up more hours than usual. We have sold about half of our 220-odd lambs’ fat so far straight off a field of fodder rape without any concentrates.

The fodder rape was drilled on August 19 following a crop of spring barley which we had managed to get cut early on. This isn’t something we have done before, but we found the fodder rape seed to be cheap, costing £20/ha, and we direct drilled it with our 4m Vaderstad Spirit drill, meaning it was a cheap establishment too.

The total cost of seed, fertiliser and drilling equalled about £3/per lamb fattened from it. Though this worked well for us and has the added bonus of getting dung on a field currently in the arable rotation, it isn’t a feasible option for the majority of our arable land as we are growing OSR.

The field used had been in constant grass for nearly 30 years and will be cropped this year then returned to grass in 2019 as is not really suitable for constant cropping as it is essentially a raised beach. The remainder of the lambs are now on creep feeders, with the hope that they will go in the next few weeks.

Seed dressing is well underway now on the farm, though we are getting seriously tight for shed space. It was so tight in the shed the other day, in fact, that 'The Boss' managed to simultaneously burst two bags of dressed seed and reverse into the dresser all at the same time – we called it a day quite promptly after that!

Hopefully, seed will start to move out this coming week, giving us more room to manoeuvre. Straw has also been leaving the farm steadily throughout the past few months and we have sold everything we have to sell, with a few loads still here awaiting uplift.

All of our straw either goes onto carrots, or to livestock producers. Though the price of straw has sky-rocketed, we sold almost all of our straw at our usual prices.

We did not feel it was fair to try and make more money from our regulars this year as we do not expect to get paid less for straw in years of abundance. A fair consistent price is much more beneficial for all.

Having said that, we did sell a few spare loads of what my husband is now calling ‘gold bars’ through our local ring to people looking for extra straw at the current market price.

In the office, this week, we have been deciding which fields to soil map this year. So I have spent a bit of time making a basic spread sheet of when fields were sampled, when they were limed and when they received dung.

We have been getting our fields soil mapped and applying variable rate lime for a good few years. Unfortunately, we often manage to forget if we limed them or not, maybe the field was going into potatoes or something similar, so we mapped it but didn’t lime it at the time, or did it get limed in the autumn that year…? No one can remember!

Along with the usual tests, we are also going to get the samples tested for organic matter this year, something we are really interested in in regard to improving yields. Hopefully, using the recording system for when tested, what the results were, and what each field received and when, will help improve our soil health and keep it consistent.

Unfortunately, Santa did not bring dad anything red and shiny for Christmas, so between Christmas and New Year he travelled down to Yorkshire to satisfy his equipment addiction and bought a 260hp Massey Ferguson 7726.

Though the last few Masseys we have bought have been brand new, we just could not justify buying new when at only a year old, with just over 2000 hours, this machine had £50k off the new price tag. It also had almost 4000 hours of warranty left – move over David Dickinson!


RACHEL farms at her family's 350ha Ballicherry Farm, in the Black Isle, with her parents, Brian and Caroline Matheson. The farm is mainly arable, though they also have 150 Texel cross ewes, and overwinter 100 cattle, with some contracting work.

The land is a mixture of owned, contract farmed, long and short term leases. Typically they have around 190ha spring barley (with 100ha for seed and 90ha for malting), 40ha of seed wheat and 30ha of oilseed rape; and 30ha of land is let to local potato growers and a further 30ha for carrots.