Field Margins by Rachel Young

The sun is finally shining and everyone is desperately trying to catch up on work after the never ending winter.

At the moment, we are busy finishing up our lambing, pushing on with the cereal drilling, contract carrot harvesting and spraying.

Our lambing has gone well in terms of timeliness, with 90% of the ewes lambing within the first two weeks, which we can’t complain about. But, it wasn’t without problems with prolapses and big lambs causing issues at times.

All our lambs are iodined, given Spectam and vitamin E at birth, and are then Scabivax’ed at two-four days old. Despite this, we still have a potentially bigger than average box of dead lambs awaiting burial in our temporary ovine mortuary this year.

This past few years we’ve had an influx of friends and family coming to see the lambs, so this year we decided to open the farm up for the public to come and see the ewes and lambs the second weekend in April.

We booked slots and had groups of 10-15 people taken on an hour-long tour around the steading (not including the mortuary) during which they got to feed the pet lambs, hold hens and sit in the tractors. It was quite unbelievable how much people were amazed by the animals and just how little many members of the public know about where their food comes from and how farms run.

One middle-aged lady asked what we did with the boy lambs…? We charged £7 for adults and £5 for children, and had nearly 100 visitors over the weekend, with the proceeds donated to Aberdeen Maternity Hospital's neonatal baby unit and the Highland Hospice.

On the arable front, we are nearly a month behind on where we were with drilling last year and we still haven’t managed to do more than a few days at a time before broken weather stops us again.

We were finished cereal drilling by now in 2017 and were cracking on with carrot drilling, but we’re a long way off that at the moment. Our type of drill isn’t helping us to push on, as we have a trailed 4m combination Vaderstad Spirit which suits our light soil but isn’t great in the wet, though it’s only been bogged once so far this year!

In a bid to reduce compaction, end-rigs are worked with the cultivator after the field is drilled and are then drilled last. This is something we’ve done for a number of years and we have definitely seen an improvement in end-rig yields from this practice, though it does slow things up a little.

We’ve particularly noticed things been slowed down this year due to doing this as we have three tractors tied up harvesting carrots five mornings a week, so the drill is having to move on to another field awaiting the cultivator to come over once carrot lifting is done for the day, so it’s a bit of extra shifting about. Hopefully, it will be worth the hassle, particularly in a wet spring like this.

The oilseed rape has fairly moved on in the last week, as has the wheat. Unfortunately, we noticed that the new dribble bars we put on the sprayer seem to have stripped one of our fields of wheat quite noticeably when it got its first nitrogen four weeks ago. It got another 250l/ha earlier this week, so hopefully that will help even things up a bit!

Last year we pre-em’d the majority of our spring barley with picolinafen and pendamethalin, at a cost of about £19/ha, but it had a very poor kill due to the dry weather and we had to tidy it up a few weeks after with fluroxypr and sulfonylureas costing another £13/ha. This year, we have all the pre-em chemical sitting in the shed and it would probably do well in these damp conditions, but it is unlikely we will get the opportunity to do much as we’re so busy and behind – sods law!

RACHEL farms at her family’s 350ha Ballicherry Farm, in the Black Isle, with her parents, Brian and Caroline Matheson. It is mainly arable, growing spring barley, wheat and oilseed rape, though they also have 150 Texel cross ewes, and overwinter 100 head of cattle.