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EVENT: Maximising grass and health for profitable upland lamb production

A flock of sheep standing in a field looking at the camera

A highly informative and interesting farm event drew the crowds at Ruthven Farm, Tomintoul.

A wet and windy forecast did not deter the 80 farmers and vets who turned out to hear about maximising production in upland livestock on Wednesday 14th August. Ruthven, on the Glenlivet Estate, is farmed by Crown Estate Scotland tenants Jim and Lesley Simmons. 

Run by partners the Moredun and Crown Estate Scotland, the event was opened by Richard Lochhead MSP who kindly gave his time and said:


“I was delighted to be invited along to this incredibly well attended event, which was organised to look at grassland management and how hill farmers can maximise production. Livestock farming is incredibly important to the upland areas and hill farms in the Speyside area and it was great to see so many local farmers turnout to hear how they can improve productivity, increase efficiencies, and ultimately save money. Crown Estate Scotland and the Moredun Foundation deserve credit for the work they’re doing in partnership and I hope we can host more of these kind of events locally in future.”

Grassland management was the central theme of the day and Charlie Morgan, the renowned Grass Master from Wales, gave convincing evidence that by concentrating on getting the most out of grass, as the cheapest form of feed available, livestock farmers are able to finish lambs and calves much more efficiently. He backed up his evidence with a walk round the impressive grass leys at Ruthven, where Jim and Lesley Simmonds rank grass production as their priority in getting lambs finished as early as possible - the lambs in evidence at the farm would certainly support this!

There were lengthy discussions in the fields on soil quality and invertebrate populations, as critical components of successful grass production. Rotational grazing was another major talking point, with new rotations in evidence at Ruthven, which are working well. However, Charlie explained that rotational systems need a flexible approach, particularly in seasons like this one where grass is in abundance and has got away in some areas. Increasing sheep numbers on rotation or using cattle to overgraze are potential solutions. 

Another point stressed was the need for soil analyses, followed by action if required. Charlie’s point was “How can you make the most of your grass when you don’t know the health of your soils?” Soil analysis results from the grass leys visited on the walk were available and discussed in terms of where improvements could be made. Jim Simmons was delighted with Charlie’s recommendation that instead of reseeding the silage field, he could rectify the deficiencies in the analysis with manure spreading. 

Jim said:

“This afternoon has saved me a fortune! It was a super opportunity to have Charlie take a good look at what we are doing and where we need to improve. Both of the other workshops also filled us with a renewed vigour to improve and become more efficient."

A collage of photos from a farm event. Two photos show a crowd of farmers in a barn listening to a guest speaker. One photo shows a woman tending to a large barbecue. The other three photos show a crowd of farmers standing in a field as they are shown around Ruthven farm.

To complement the advice on maximising production from grass, two important endemic diseases of sheep were examined at further workshops during the event – roundworm control and lameness. 

Dr Dave Bartley, Moredun, concentrated on the use of diagnostics to inform on worming strategies and how effective wormers were on your farm. A main focus was the urgent requirement to slow down resistance to the various classes of anthelmintic and Dave demonstrated how this could be done using best practice guidelines. He used data provided by the Simmons to look at effective control of Nematodirus in lambs and to compare rotational and conventional systems. He stressed that we currently do not have enough information on worm dispersal in rotational systems and this needs to be a research priority.

In a neighbouring shed, Amanda Sinclair, MSD Animal Health and Ruth Cowie, Strathspey Vets, provided a comprehensive demonstration on sheep lameness and the importance of prevention and control using MSD’s 5-point plan. The importance of accurate diagnosis was stressed once lameness is in evidence in a flock and demonstrated the usefulness of the turnover crate to achieve this. 

The afternoon finished with a fantastic barbecue, supplied by Cairngorm Butchers, which showed support for local livestock producers by using tasty, local beef and lamb.

Ian Duncan Millar, Chair of the Moredun Foundation and livestock farmer, said,:

“The importance of these events to livestock farmers cannot be underestimated, where experts in fields critical to our efficiency are available to discuss with farmers how they can improve their profit margins.”

Andy Wells, Head of Property for Crown Estate Scotland, said:

“It was fantastic to see such a large turnout of people from across Scotland for this important event, and it was a particular pleasure to welcome them to our Glenlivet Estate. I’m sure everyone who came along gained a lot from the valuable insight of the experts involved which they will be able to put in to practice for themselves.”

For further information or images, please contact [email protected]