LAST MONTH I wrote about the thousands of acres we saw in Austria, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, but with very few animals grazing, so what a contrast it was in the first weekend in November, when my better half was curling at the famous McMillan Ice rink, in Stranraer, better known as the North-west Castle.

That gave me a chance to visit a few friends on the north and south of the peninsula, where I saw thousands of cattle grazing on an abundance of grass (in most cases) in the first week of November. No doubt some will be out-wintered in that most southerly corner of our country, which, for many, is a tradition.

I think I am correct in saying that it is also the home to our largest suckler cow outfit, with around 2000 cows that mostly out winter among the sand dunes. Thanks to all my hosts who looked after this non-curling farmer!

Right at the end of October I think history was made when our neighbour, Roberta Dunbar, cut her fourth cut of silage, which is pretty late for this northern tip of Lanarkshire. It featured on the front page of The SF!

I managed three cuts for a few years some 40 years ago but never got past September! With only six weeks to go before the end of the year, I feel sure that 2018 will possibly be the best year ever to farm in this part of Scotland. Grass is by far the most important crop we grow, not only for grazing but probably more so, for conservation.

I am sure there has been better silage made this year than many of us can recall and this area has plenty of it, with little chance of a shortage in this part of Scotland. I obviously do not know what our final rainfall will be but, so far, according to what I call summer (from April 1 to end of September) its has not been the driest at 13-inches. Over the same period, 12-inches fell in 2014, which was the driest in more than 30 years of rainfall recording.

We are now entering the period of winter shows as well as roots, grain and silage competitions. A few are already past. At Stirling the 'Stars of the Future' calf show had a tremendous turn-out of all breeds, but I have to say the most impressive class for me was the nine native pairs, with Jack Ramsay's Beef Shorthorns standing top of the line-up. Next to impress the eye had to be the Highlanders. In fact, all the natives had an excellent display!

This begs the question? Are all the native breeds in our country, making a comeback? Calf registrations at BCMS are indicating that some level of movement is taking place. One could give several likely reasons and I can tell you about three farms I recently visited which may give a flavour of where our beef industry is heading.

All three had native cows. All were breeder finishers. All were spring calving and good grassland farmers. Their cattle were fed solely on grass and silage plus mineral buckets, no cereals or concentrates.

The progeny from these cows were going to the abattoir at between 24 and 30 months. I do not have any costings on this system of beef farming, but with most feeds this winter costing anywhere between £200 and £300 per tonne, I can tell you that trying to finish cattle on a conventional system of cereals and forage is nigh near impossible, especially with a finished beef price that could be as much as 15p per kg deadweight.

This is less than the same time last year, which on a decker load of 35 cattle, with an average dead/weight of 360kg, comes to £1890. Adding in the feed price rise of 25%, plus overhead increases of another 5%, that certainly puts finishing beef cattle into a loss-making situation.

By the time you read this column, the big plants will be finished their Christmas kill, which means that the kill of clean cattle, from next week, will be reduced, thus enhancing the queues to get cattle slaughtered! This only means one thing – further reduced prices, which indicates that the processors could be having their best Christmas for a long time.

Little wonder that the number of cull cows slaughtered in October was 11% higher than the same month last year. The June census figures show cattle numbers at a 60-year low. I wonder by how much more that will have fallen by June, 2019?

Is that bad news? Maybe not, because until supermarket shelves are short of food, primary producers will only be rewarded enough to keep them producing, in the hope that margins will improve. If you think that is going to happen, you can stop dreaming and remember farming is a way of life with modest financial rewards.

Exceptions could be if you are farming grade one land, or have a number of large turbines or other renewable energy incomes – or so I was told by an accountant a few days ago. However, he did admit he had a couple of clients who had the ultimate crop of bricks and mortar.

One was coping very well and enjoying the good life, while the other had just purchased another farm. Needless to say, it was on the best of land and he was enjoying his new way of farming. It is a good job we are all different!

Returning to fodder and feed for the winter ahead, I think if we have a normal spring next year, we may have a shorter winter than some recent ones. This back-end has been excellent for almost every farming sector and we are almost mid-way through November with hardly any really coarse weather, which has to be a bonus.

One of the much talked about downsides is the fact that virtually all farm input costs are rising faster than our outputs, which is certainly putting stress on some businesses. Trying to keep costs under control has probably been one of the biggest challenges, all my farming life.

It can only be done with a good costing system and a budget that is realistic, plus some bench-marking with fellow peers, or a professional costing business. One of the best costing systems for dairy farmers was started way back in the 1970’s by the SMMB and the late Sir William Young, who was the force behind its introduction. There are others around today, but they have to be good to meet the same level of bench-marking.

For months I have managed to avoid mentioning the word that is frustrating the population –Brexit. Sadly, no one has a clue what is going to happen. Do we leave or stay in the EU? Decision time is certainly drawing closer.

Over the past few months I have listened to many debates on TV and radio. The most interesting was by chance when channel flicking, when I came across a debate on the subject in the House of Lords, by Lord Sugar and Baroness Doocey, a Lib-Dem.

At the referendum, I was a 'Remainer'. We had the result, on a UK basis, to leave, so my thinking was that we will have to go with the majority and live with it, for better or worse. However, having watched that debate from the House of Lords, when both those speakers gave an overwhelming reason for a people’s vote, primarily because of the lies that were told before the referendum, by the Leave campaign, I was given a completely different picture.

Both had a list that seemed endless, which has convinced me that we should have a people’s vote after we know what the deal is on the table.