Be careful what you wish for over this Christmas period and time of New Years’ resolutions!

I was on a call earlier in the year when a supermarket lamb buyer was asking what they could do to make things better – and one producer said ‘just keep the figure £5/kg in mind’. Last week I heard someone complaining that the price had slipped back to £5.90!

Lamb sales continue to be the highlight of the year. We have 150 more away before Christmas than last year, running at £16 ahead of last year’s average price and £20/head over this time last year. Our kill returns show a drop of 0.5kg on the year to 20kg average and correspondingly less E and U grades (from 50% down to 40%) and leaner with 60% 3L / 40% 3H compared to the other way about last year.

I’m a bit concerned this lamb trade is like surfing down a wave of inflation. A mass of higher costs are going to overtake us at some point, but costs are easier to control within the farm gate than market prices.

Luing steers grazed this summer were killed in October and November and the final analysis has been done. They sold at £1350 on average at 330kg deadweight, grading R and O+ at 4L, at 19 months. They ranged from £1200 for a reared twin to nearly £1500 for a steer that probably should have been a breeding bull. They ate about £20 per head of barley, grazed some excess grass early summer and then stocked at two per acre on a field of aftermath. Half were killed off grass and the rest were housed for a month. A £300 uplift in value in six months of summer without many inputs seems like good maths to me.

Annual rainfall is just about the 10-year average at 45 inches (1150mm). The wettest months were October, February and August (in that order again), but they were joined by May which got June and July’s rainfall – making for a miserable lambing time but great weather for hay and silage. Harvest and straw followed suit in a grand spell in September.

The extreme weather event of 2021 at Incheoch was undoubtedly Storm Arwen. I last wrote in the days following the over-night blast from the North when I thought Dad’s estimate of more than 100 trees lost was maybe over-dramatic – but he will easily be right.

I don’t think there has been a day since when you can’t hear the whine of at least one chainsaw working. We are fortunate as our 16-year-old Angus was booked on a chainsaw course through Ringlink at the start of the holidays – based around safety, maintenance and basic cutting technique – and he’s been getting plenty practice since.

The other school holiday activity is halter-breaking bull calves. We have a group of 12 Simmental weaned calves that we are working on. Day 1 was with calves loose in a small pen getting a hand or a comb on them. The next day they run through a crate, adorned with a halter made of thick rope and tied up to a bar on a wall in their straw court. There are usually one or two that put up a bit of a fight, but the harder they pull on the first day – the bigger the improvement the next day (usually)! We spend two or three hours combing over them and trying to make them comfortable with the experience. This is repeated for three or four days, by which time they are usually quite biddable and can be led to their destination relatively easily.

We have refined our system over the years, mostly by the suggestions of folk who have helped us along the way. The only thing we’ve added lately is to pull some tail hairs for a DNA test – for sire verification and to check some for homozygous polled.

The turning of the New Year is a good time to take stock of things. Things that have gone well this year are: silage analysis, forage crops (swedes got a great start and are very clean), stock performance at grass, holiday house letting and the ram and bull sale went well. Things that didn’t go so well would include: silage quantity, lambing time weather, trying to feed swedes on a break in ice last January, 20% less production from the wind turbine (less wind), and the incident with the funny smelling Ad Blue (always take a sniff)!

Best decision – so far looks like bidding on a Texel ram from Alex Allison at Easton (we’ll wait to see lambs to confirm – but he’s looking great). Worst decision – ignoring a poor semen sample from another Texel ram on the basis he wasn’t responding to sampling, handled fine and had a good history (keel marks for repeats suggest he hasn’t performed).

Our self-catering holiday house has had a good year, with only 18 free days since April (when restrictions lifted). One third of these have been repeat bookings and although we have missed our overseas guests, we have welcomed more families (often with a dog), to enjoy walking in the local area. There are 19 weeks booked already for the new year – the best forward sales to date.

We are working with a few projects on the farm that could be classed as R&D in that they are a bit speculative. There is an SAOS run project looking at deploying sensor technology on-farm – we can use it to get a lot of information about things we are not very sure how to use yet, although soil temperature and moisture levels, fridge alarms and cattle shed humidity are proving useful tools.

We are also participating in Morrisons Net Zero project, through which we hope to get a better understanding of our carbon footprint. From what I can gather so far, the comfortable stuff is going to be like the ‘Team Sky’ UK cyclists and Sir David Brailsford’s concept of marginal gains – do all the little things 1% better. That’s where the first project might help. We haven’t looked at the uncomfortable stuff yet – tree planting and bigger system changes.

Better slurry and manure management and utilisation looks like an attractive thing to start with. My New Year’s resolution could then be to buy less fertiliser, which I’d be comfortable with.

I see Debbie has just signed us all up to take part in Doddie Aid and an ‘Active January’ – which might be easier!