Field Margins

By Murdoch Duncan

Having only just recovered from this year’s Hogmanay party, the month seems to have flown by and been a

busy one.

We carried out our TB testing which has, thankfully, been successful. This was done along with the annual BVD booster over two groups, with the first

batch of 250 cows.

We have developed and built a handling system based on a portable loop race which handles 15 cows at a time. It has taken a few years trying out different layouts but think we have got to a set-up which works well as during the testing day the cows flowed quickly and quietly.

Our new shed is currently being erected and once complete we will build a permanent handling system within it which can then be accessed from all of our cattle sheds.

We had great plans to put up the new shed ourselves but, as ever, time has been in short supply, so took the

decision to employ a local company instead. Right now, the steel frame is going up and we are hoping to have it completed by next month.

This will be a great asset to our existing set-up, allowing us to centralise the cattle operations and have all of the stock housed on the one farm. Not having to travel between farms to feed and bed cattle will make for significant time-savings.

The straw bedder we built last year is proving its worth this season with cost savings now evident. Due to the way the machine spreads a consistent and even layer of straw we are saving more than 20 bales per week across our cattle courts.

This, along with the sand bedding trial, has seen a substantial reduction in our straw use for the winter so far. The sand in the outdoor corral has stood up well and kept the cows looking incredibly clean.

We fabricated a cleaner, which has taken a bit of fine tuning but we are just about there with it. Last week, we removed the sand from the shed in preparation for calving and have stock-piled it as we will attempt to clean and re-use as much of it as possible for next season.

After two months on the sand and a steep learning curve in terms of having to build a machine to clean it, we now know it can work for our system and we

plan to utilise it again next year. On the basis that you can keep it clean, it has proved to us a strong alternative to traditional straw courts.

February will be an active month with the shed erection, ploughing, calving, and the start of our store cattle sales underway. We aim to begin weighing this week to see how many are ready and they are looking in strong condition and hopefully trade will remain buoyant – we will see how they do.

The year now ramps up for us, beginning with the start of calving and over the next few weeks we hope to have a few new starts on the ground!


Murdoch Duncan farms East Lediken, an 1800-acre mixed beef and sheep unit in Aberdeenshire, in partnership with his parents. There they run a 330 suckler cow herd and 350-ewe flock, along with growing 700 acres of combinable crops.