Throughout my farming career I have experienced a few ‘lightbulb moments’ which have led to significant changes in our own farm system and business.

I hasten to add that these great ideas have – almost without fail – been those of someone else. As they say, ‘there is nothing much new under the sun’.

Two terrific recent farm visits certainly had the lightbulbs flickering. My eyes were opened to what I think might be a great opportunity for ourselves.

These visits highlighted a possible solution to the issue that I touched on last month regarding the difficulty of challenging satisfactory growth rates in our weaned beef calves.

Our late calving and early weaning, although allowing a very cheap winter for the cow, results in young calves which require extremely high-quality forage or a relatively high level of concentrates to maintain good growth rates over winter.

A fluke/worm drench and increase of concentrate in the diet has seen our calves’ performance jump from 0.55kg/day to almost 1.1kg/day. However, with decent beef blends now at around the £300/tonne mark, this has come at a significant cost.

The farms I visited have capitalised on the very free draining attributes of their land and have developed a very simple and relatively cheap out-wintering system for their cows and calves.

Utilising a field earmarked for reseeding the following season, they run the calves with the cows for most of the winter, leaving weaning until late February.

These calves at no point receive any concentrate creep feed. There are obviously a few absolute necessities for the system to work.

A free draining field is paramount, as is a huge allocation of feed space so limiting or even completely overcoming any bullying issues.

As a guide, one of the farms provided one ring feeder for every four cows and calves.

The other farm was also allowing calves to forward creep graze onto an adjacent field where they also had very high-quality red clover silage on offer.

This creep grazing was also used recently to carry out the simplest, stress free weaning possible, with most of the calves never even having to be yarded.

Admittedly, the winter had been very kind up to the point of my visit, but the cattle all looked terrific. A little milk every day, as well as the comfort of their mother, had kept calf performance to a high level.

The ‘medicinal’ effect of a little milk, as far as limiting the effects of parasites, is perhaps something we too often overlook.

As far as I could see, the final piece of the jigsaw that fitted was the cattle genetics that both farms were using. The deep, moderate framed, easily fleshed Angus and Angus cross cows seemed ideally suited and were making a terrific job of their calves.

I suspect breed choice would be very much secondary to ‘type’, in determining their suitability to the system. With both farms being very similar to Pirntaton, the sight of these cattle re-affirmed our direction of travel as far as cattle breeding goes.

A trip to the Stirling Aberdeen-Angus Bull Sales showed me that there is an increasing demand for these more moderately framed, easy-fleshing cattle.

A growing realisation that early weight gains need not be sacrificed, and that a lower mature size will both reduce maintenance costs and generally lead to lower birth weights and easier calving, saw several bulls of this type amongst the better prices.

Their sisters at a similar age will already have achieved a high percentage of their mature weight, leaving more energy to be apportioned to fertility and lactation, rather than extended growth.

The sale also saw our centre record of 28,000gns for Galawater Bentley shattered twice within a matter of minutes, with sales of 38,000gns and 30,000gns. Congratulations to the Massie and Clark families for these terrific achievements.

With our first pedigree calf for nearly 12 years born at the end of January, and our first six embryo pregnancies confirmed last week, we can’t wait to have our first bulls for sale again.

Stud lambing is now only a month away, with ewes having scanned at a very pleasing 188%. We crutched and condition scored them last week and with a few exceptions are in lovely order.

Commercial ewes were scanned last week and thankfully the results were equally as pleasing. Their overall percentage was right on target for our outdoor lambing system at 180% for ewes and gimmers combined.

I always think that the makeup of the scan is at least as important as the overall percentage. With an empty rate of well under 2%, a twinning rate of 66% and only 8% triplets we couldn’t have hoped for much better.

Read more: Jim Logan highlights the good and the bad days at Pirntaton

With only 4% of them to lamb in the second cycle, lambing will, hopefully, be short and sweet! With low heritability, selection for fertility traits is a long game, but I think still a worthwhile one.

The gimmers scanned above expectation at 167%, but as usual accounted for the majority of the empties. The temptation to make excuses and give these young ewes ‘one more chance’ is one that we have resisted for many years.

I had feared that they were a few kg light at joining and would disappoint at scanning, but were obviously heading in the right general direction.

It feels like a bit of a let off and more priority must be given to them earlier next season. With only the mature ewes left to crutch, attention will soon move to the ewes’ annual clostridial booster and the countdown to lambing time, after which we’ll find out the much more important rearing percentage!

Late February sees day length really start to increase, and with it the appetites of the red deer. I always marvel at what a great adaptation to our climate and long winters the slowing down of their metabolism and hence appetite is.

I only wish my own followed a similar pattern and I wouldn’t have so many pounds to lose before lambing time!