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My Farming Week - Janet Hill, Isle of Bute

Janet and Brian Hill run the 650-hectare (1,600-acre) upland Plan Farm on the Isle of Bute.


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Brian and Janet Hill
Brian and Janet Hill

Progress: Since being Quality Meat Scotland monitor farmers from 2006 to 2009 we have continued to make changes to the way we farm, which has increased both productivity and profitability.

 

As a spin-off from the monitor farm project, we started using electronic identification (EID), mainly to get a good handle on efficiency.

 

Sheep: We have a commercial flock of 700 Lleyn ewes and using EID, we identified the best ewes to go to the Lleyn tup to breed pure Lleyn ewe lambs to keep for future breeding.

 

All the lesser performing ewes are put to the Hampshire Down ram to produce lambs for the prime market. All the sheep on the farm, except the Lleyn rams bought-in to introduce new genes, are born and bred at Plan Farm.

 

The Hampshire Down rams are home-bred from a small pedigree flock of Hampshire Downs.

 

The flock is now up to 20 pedigree ewes and we just finished lambing those this week.

 

We are now breeding a surplus, so we will have some pedigree Hampshires to sell at next year’s sales.

 

The commercial Lleyns have finished with the tups and all the ewes are back on the hill. They will not be touched again now until scanning time.

 

Cattle: South Devons are crossed with the Luing. The cross of these two breeds produces our replacement heifers which join the main herd to produce their first calf in their second or third year, calving takes place from mid-March to early May.

 

We also cross the Devon-Luing cow with the Simmental. The heifers from this three-way cross grow into suckler cows which are in great demand on mainland Scotland.

 

Grass: Grassland has been much improved on both the lower and some of the higher ground, facilitating an increase in cow numbers from 100 to 120.

 

Grass underpins everything we produce. Before the monitor farm, in our quest to grow grass, we simply slapped on compound. By the time we had done that, we reckoned we could not afford lime.

 

The monitor farm taught us how crucial it is to prioritise soil pH. Ever since, we have applied calcium lime annually, which has significantly lifted pH levels. Pre-monitor farm, the soil-tested areas averaged 5.05. In 2014, all these areas were at least 5.6, with a peak of 6.4.

 

We can clearly see the overall improvement and are convinced that grass is now growing earlier in spring and lasting longer into the winter.

 

Holiday let: Our self-catered holiday home is situated on-farm and is booked out over Christmas and New Year.

 

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