Our main pre-occupation over the past few months has been, like most livestock producers in the Eastern Borders, budgeting straw.

We are short of what we usually have and some is weathered. For a time we bedded the cattle with industrial woodchip, however SEPA stopped it as, when we spread the resulting dung, resin might enter the water ways.

So, we are keeping the cattle outside on stubbles and they are doing fine. They are closely descended from cattle from North America where temperatures sometimes dip to -40°C degrees centigrade so they hardly notice anything that Scotland can throw at them. Feeding outside does however add to the workload. Maybe, with the huge number of sheds erected over the decades we have got out of the habit of working outside in winter.

A further reflection of passing times is that in my youth we got barley straw free for the baling. Now, all sorts of prices are quoted – and all are well above a £100.

We always hope for an early spring and never have we needed it more. Last year was one when, for a large part, we got exactly the weather we didn’t want.

After an easy winter, which seems the norm now, the spring, particularly May, was cold and dry. May in the drier east is one of the critical months in the year. If we don’t get the growth then we don’t usually get it later. This time we did.

From June to October, we got rain, not always in large quantities but almost every day. Making good hay was impossible. We made plenty of silage but of moderate quality.

Harvest showed promise of being early, but didn’t finish until early October. This was the latest in the 25 years we have been at Roxburgh Mains. It reminded me of the days in the Lammermuirs, when leading in from stooks often lasted well into October and we never thought anything about it.

Our calves weaned very light due to a combination of plentiful but watery grass and our delay in putting out the calf creeps.

However, the use of creeps seems to be somewhat controversial. I don’t know why, as calves convert went well at a young age and late autumn grass is not strong enough to maximise their growth potential. The little bit of extra effort and expense is well rewarded and it gives their mothers some respite which enables them to put on condition cheaply before winter.

This ties in with a recent trial undertaken at the SRUC’s Beef and Sheep Research Centre, near Edinburgh, with the objective of finding the best finishing system with regard to performance when alive, eating quality and profitability. Eating quality was acceptable for all three systems.

Three groups of 24 animals, 50% steers and 50% heifers, were finished between 12 to 16 months, 18 to 26 months and from 28 months to 36 months. The difference between the value at the start and finish of the trial for each group was £301, £523 and £570, but when expressed on a daily basis the margins were £3.72, £1.86 and £0.91 per head/day.

After variable costs were deducted, the gross margins were £36, £86 and £65. Fixed costs were £63, £120 and £274 per head, which left disappointing nett margins of -£27, -£34 and -£209.

We don’t finish many cattle now as most are sold for breeding. When we did, mostly our own suckled calves, I was never in doubt that pushing them hard and finishing them early was the most profitable option. In addition, it freed up more grass acres for cows and ewes.

Also, 2017 introduced me to the world of forestry. Upper Huntlywood has some lovely woods, whether for timber, shelter or sport but, like many woods countrywide, they have been sorely neglected. Some were overdue for felling. Happily, timber prices are high which is enabling us to finance thinning and cleaning the younger trees and replanting the felled areas this coming spring.

Woods on farms which I have previously looked after had been planted to shelter hill sheep in snowstorms. They had, by design, a large boundary relative to their area which resulted in poor quality timber. Coupled with their remote situations, this made harvesting and replanting a loss maker.

At Huntlywood, our timber sales ranged in price from £30 per tonne for the best logs to £9 for those only fit for chipping, so it definitely pays to maintain the woods properly – although it seems costly at the time, with rewards a long way in the future.

Our programme is planned over five years, so should leave a financial surplus and leave the remaining woods in good shape.

The machinery used in modern forestry fascinated me. The first futuristic machine felled the trees, removed the branches and then cut the trunk into manageable logs. Then came another which gathered the logs, clambered over stumps, branches and craters and brought them to a point where lorries could be loaded.

After that, a huge digger opened up the ditches through the woods which cleared the outfalls of the tile drains in the adjoining fields. Some of these drainage systems are obviously very old and will need updating.

Earlier in the year we limed most of the grassland, so draining the wet bits is step two. Maybe, after that, we can put into practice the lessons which I learnt in 2016 about rotational grazing.

Last year seemed to have more that is share of farewells. It had a final flourish when my mother, who served in the WAAF (the Women’s Auxiliary Airforce, now the Women’s Royal Airforce) in 617 'The Dambusters' squadron and my neighbours, Andrew and Sheila Pate, all died around Christmas.

A chat with Andrew usually left me laughing. Meeting him during the hill lambing, he told me of a struggle he had to catch a wild Blackie gimmer. The sentence 'the stick was getting higher and higher and the dog was running in ever widening circles' remains with me.