It's good to be out and about again. On consecutive evenings I went to the Kelso Discussion Society and to the SNFU presentation/discussion about the steps we must take to, hopefully, increase production while, at the same time, reduce our carbon footprint and improve biodiversity.

At Kelso, Neil White, who farms the all arable farm of Greenknowe, in Berwickshire, is pioneering advanced methods of crop production. Farming with his son, Neil is now on his second direct drill – but still keeps his plough on standby.

I was fascinated by slides of his crops and cover crops in their various stages of growth and in hearing why he does what he does. It makes our own cropping programme seem very basic.

Michael Shannon farms in Lanarkshire. He feeds native breeds of cattle entirely on grass in summer and forage crops in winter. He is in the process of getting rid of his sheep because they like to die.

Many of his livestock are sold through his farm shop 'Damn Delicious' and my own experience is that his steaks are indeed just that.

In a business sense, Covid-19, had been kind to Michael. Trade boomed and profits are at a record level. He is now putting in place a 10-year retirement plan as none of his eight children want to farm.

The SNFU meeting the following evening involved talks on the 'Agricultural transition consultation and replacement of the CAP in Scotland' by Martin Kennedy, NFUS president and Jonnie Hall, NFUS director of policy. The objective was to hear the views of rank-and-file members on how farming should be supported to deliver sustainable food production, climate change and improved biodiversity.

This followed up recommendations made by the Farmer-Led Groups which are currently being discussed by the Agriculture Reform Implementation Oversight Board (ARIOB) which is chaired by Martin Kennedy and Mairi Gougeon.

This meeting was excellent and was imaginatively chaired by Debbie Playfair who, after the talks, split the company into seven groups. Each group was given 10 minutes to discuss a future challenge. Each group then changed personnel and moved on to discuss a different policy option, until we had covered all seven.

It was a refreshing change from the normal Q and A and gave even the most reticent a chance to be heard and denied those who nod off an opt out. Similar open meetings are being held throughout Scotland to give those who negotiate on our behalf a feel for the opinions of its farmers.

The government's expected wish for increased production seems to me to be over ambitious because of the forthcoming strictures, vis-a-vis climate change, which we must address.

A concern is improving biodiversity. For every opinion that farmers are able to express in committee, several are put forward by single action groups, be they those who favour badgers over hedgehogs, hawks over small birds etc. So far, they have foisted upon us beavers and sea eagles, and now talk of lynxes, wolves and even wild boar. It’s a real relief to sometimes forget the world in turmoil and retreat to the haven of the farm.

Throughout my life, November is tupping time. I sometimes read articles and see postings on Facebook which remind me how often sheep have become a part-time enterprise and how much expertise is being lost.

Recently, someone asked about tailing ewes before tupping. Many of our modern pinny-tailed ewes no longer need tailing. In times when a well-clad bushy tail was highly esteemed as protection to a ewes udder in the spring, we tailed our ewes in the fields but not the Blackies on the hill.

It was very important that this was done some weeks before tupping and not too close to the skin, which favours shears over machine. The reasons are two-fold.

If the ewe has been tailed too close to the skin, the sharp edges of the wool can injure the ram’s penis. Although this isn’t common, it certainly isn’t hypothetical. It the penis bleeds the ram may carry on tupping, but his semen will be sterile and nothing will hold to him.

This won’t be detected until the second cycle. The ram will be blamed for making a mess and will maybe be culled. After rest, an injured ram should be fine for further use.

The second reason for careful and timely tailing is that sometimes loose wool will form a ring round the ram’s penis, which, similar to the effect of a castration ring will amputate the end. Usually after this, the ram will be useless.

Again, this is rare, but it certainly happens, with a resulting prolonged lambing and the loss of a valuable ram.

I’m sometimes asked how many ewes a ram will tup. How long is a piece of string?

In general, a ram lamb should cope with 40 ewes and a mature ram double that. Some, of course, can mate successfully with many more. I think the most we have ever given a ram was 140.

In New Zealand, some are regularly given more than that, but some consideration must be given to the extent and nature of the terrain in which the sheep is working. The best chance of seeing how active a ram is is when he is first put among his ewes.

If doubts exist, even if ewes are being marked, he should be penned at night. When he is let back into the flock his libido can be assessed.

Surprisingly, Michael Shannon is not the most fecund speaker I have listened to. Amanda Owen, the Yorkshire Shepherdess, has nine children. Even she isn’t top. At the World Angus Forum, in South Africa, in 2005, one of the speakers was the politician JM Van Rensburg. Mr Van Rensburg had 11 offspring.

He was, aside from his political duties, a well-known sheep breeder and had previously won The Golden Ram Award. I wondered at the time what The Golden Ram was awarded for!