By Rachel Young

The last month has been another particularly busy spell for us here at Ballicherry with carrot harvesting, spraying, drilling green manure crops, getting the sheep clipped and silage – all interspersed with very frequent heavy rain showers.

It has been an extremely challenging spraying season due to the weather. We had to stop spraying for a number of days at the start of the month as heavy rain had made ground conditions impossible to travel on. Once we got back to it we were being constantly threatened by heavy, unforecasted showers, which would come on during or immediately after spraying, totally out of the blue which has been very frustrating.

We also struggled to decide what to do in regards to applying growth regulator to spring barley. Some crops appear well forward and lush while others look stressed and water logged in places, it really is a mixed bag dependant on field. I decided to put Cerone on at 0.3l/ha to the lushest looking 60ha at flag leaf and have left the rest in the hands of Mother Nature.

Unfortunately we didn’t make it to the Royal Highland Show this year as were too busy with silage and drilling cover crops. We are making baled silage this year for the first time in many years due to our silage pit being condemned by SEPA. We had an inspection from SEPA last month and they advised that we needed to resurface the silage pit floor and bund our cattle yards to be able to collect three days worth of winter rainfall.

Our current set-up has the cattle housed in sheds which open out onto an outdoor feed barrier area with a central feed pass. We think this system is great for the cattle as means they can still be outdoors but also have dry indoor shelter, with space for them all to lie down, but apparently it isn’t so good for collecting brown water!

So, due to the cost of resurfacing the silage pit floor and bunding the yards, we have decided to no longer take wintering cattle. To be fair on SEPA, the two people who came out to look around were extremely sensible and pleasant and weren’t there to point the finger or enforce rules, they wanted to work with us to reduce our pollution impact.

We will miss having cows, and the occasional calf (!) around the place, and we do wonder what impact the loss of the winterers will have on our soil health as we will no longer be returning dung to the fields. We plan to sell our feed wagon, bedder, tanker and cattle crush before the winter, and in the meantime plan what we are going to do with all our free time – maybe we will get some winter ploughing done for once!

Fact file

Rachel farms at her family’s 350-hectare 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