SOME difficult decisions face farmers and crofters in the north and west of Scotland this winter to ensure their cattle reach the spring in fine fettle.

Silage quality and quantity, plus cattle health and nutrition are all key concerns after a challenging spring and summer in the Highlands and Islands. Senior beef specialist, Gavin Hill, commented:

"Last winter will have been expensive for many, with cattle housed for seven to eight months and any surplus forage used up. Managing nutrition is vitally important this year and all farmers have been advised to have silage analysed early, so they can plan ahead for supplementary feeding.

He added: "While silage might look OK, results so far have shown it can be low in protein, energy or even contaminated with soil due to harvesting in wet conditions. It is too late to discover at Christmas that cows are too thin. Spring calving cows should be in good condition by New Year, so it is better to supplement with draff or concentrates from the start of winter if silage is poor quality."

"We could be faced with another expensive winter, so farms do not want to be carrying yeld cows. Where forage stocks are low careful calculations need to be made at the costs of feeding store cattle and whether to sell such stock," said Mr Hill.

Another topic down to wet weather is cattle lameness. The advice is not only to look at those already showing clear signs of lameness but to check all cattle and assess their movement as it may be there are others whose feet are beginning to show early symptoms.