A careful eye on stock and a slick balance of businesses means Andrew Baillie is well equipped to tackle a raft of challenges which may be thrown his way. Erika Hay reports.
A paddock grazing system allowing greater stocking levels has been key to profitability at Andrew and Jennifer Baillie’s farm.
The young couple, who have three children – Rachel, 12, Cameron, 10 and Lauren, three months – have only been farming the 253-hectare (625-acre) unit for six years.
And, until this year, they have had no entitlement to support payments. The challenge means it is crucial they squeeze every ounce of profit they can from Carstairs Mains Farm, near Carnwath, Lanarkshire.
Andrew was brought up at nearby Calla, where his father and brother still farm, as a further three brothers are all involved in farming in one way or another.
Andrew and Jennifer rented a farm for four years before getting chance to buy Carstairs Mains, which they stock with suckler cows, commercial sheep and Andrew’s pedigree flocks of Beltex and Texels.
Upon arrival, they quickly set about applying lime to improve soil, and over the years they have reseeded all the grassland. This is in rotation, with about 81ha (200 acres) of cereals and 12ha (30 acres) of kale and stubble turnips.
Andrew says: “I will admit, I am slightly obsessed with grass, but it has allowed me to increase my stocking rates by about 50 per cent since 2000.” And he already has plans to increase it further.
They began with 80 suckler cows and 200 ewes, including 100 Beltex, and this year he has 55 cows and heifers going to the bull and 650 ewes going to the tup.
Andrew credits much of what he has achieved to the monitor farm process after they were chosen as a Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) monitor farm from 2012 to 2015.
“I jumped at the chance to be a QMS monitor farm, as it was critical for us to maximise output and profit when we had no entitlement.” he says.
“The changes I have made and benefits I have seen are a direct result of being part of the process.”
The programme highlighted the under-utilisation of 40ha (100 acres) of woodland, so now a 60kw biomass plant heats the house, office and pedigree lambing shed, and returns £7,000 per year via the renewable heat incentive.
"As start-up farmers with no entitlements, we have had to make the farm work for us"- Andrew Baillie
During the three years he also cut cow numbers to 30, while increasing his number of ewes.
“When I looked at costs, cows were returning £127/head profit and the commercial ewes £70, but I can run at least six ewes for every cow.”
This being said, he is increasing cow numbers again for management purposes.
“Cows complement the sheep and I need at least 30 cows and calves to clean up the paddocks after each batch of 250-300 sheep.”
If all goes according to plan over the next few years, Andrew hopes to have 800-1,000 ewes and as many as 90 cattle on the same area of ground.
“It is important to keep an eye on costs and returns, I can always increase the grass at the expense of arable if livestock is proving a more profitable enterprise.”
This year, the 81ha (200 acres) of arable is all down to spring barley which is used on farm to feed a 120-head bull beef enterprise. Andrew buys eight-week-old calves from his brother’s dairy and another local herd and finishes them at just more than a year.
Bulls are weighed every two weeks once they are over the minimum carcase weight and more than 12 months of age.
“As long as they have a daily liveweight gain of 1.2kg or more they are worth keeping, as the value of weight gain is worth more than the 16kg of barley per day they are eating.”
Male calves from his own suckler herd are Limousin or British Blue crosses which have been finished up until now with heifers either retained for breeding or sold store. He remains undecided whether to castrate this year’s calves at weaning.
“There is less demand for bull beef, but I do not want to have to keep them for a second summer as they would be competing for the best grass with ewes and lambs.”
Cows are rotationally grazed through summer and they were the guinea pigs for his paddock grazing system in 2014. They are then out-wintered on kale before coming inside six weeks before calving.
Other cattle enterprises on-farm include bed and breakfast dairy heifers, which make use of a cubicle house which they inherited with the farm.
Andrew says: “The slurry from this has helped improve fertility of the soil and reduce fertiliser bills. I also have a small pedigree Limousin herd of seven cows and a fledgling British Blue herd consisting of one heifer, but 11 embryos have been implanted.”
However it is the sheep flocks which are the bread and butter of the farm business. Andrew has had pedigree Beltex for nearly 20 years, stemming from his dad David trying a couple of tups on his ewe flock at Calla.
They were impressed with them and could see the potential of the breed, so Andrew started the Callacrag flock in 1997, which has now grown to 100 ewes.
He also has 50 pedigree Texels and 50 Beltex cross Texels, as well as 350 commercial ewes and 100 hoggs. Commercial replacements were previously Blackface and Cheviot cross Bleu du Maine from Calla, but recently Andrew persuaded his dad to use Aberdale rams on some of his hill ewes to produce replacements for Andrew.
“We want a white-faced, prolific ewe suited to a grassland system, which produces a good butchers lambs when crossed with a Beltex.”
Last year, he tupped 50 ewe lambs and was pleased with the result.
“I am impressed with them after scanning at 127 per cent and weaning at 120 per cent. It proves the lambs are hardy and the hoggs milky.”
Commercial lambing starts in mid-April and ewes are paddock-grazed until December/January when they go onto stubble fields and are fed silage until scanning.
Those carrying triplets are housed, twins go onto stubble turnips and singles back to the cereal stubbles. Three weeks before lambing, ewes are housed and fed a total mixed ration.
This spring ewes were turned out on 80mm of quality grass and received no feeding after turnout.
Andrew believes he achieves this quantity and quality of grass because it has been allowed to recover since December/January.
“I have increased stock numbers and reduced my feed bills and have gone from using 12 tonnes of sheep feed post-lambing for 300 ewes to no feeding for 500.”
Andrew was no stranger to rotational grazing systems, having worked on a sheep farm in New Zealand, but it was through suggestions from grazing experts during the monitor farm process when he became convinced it could work on his home farm, and he is still surprised how successful it has been.
“For about £1,500 investment in electric fencing, I have been able to double my stocking rates and reduce my grass fertiliser costs.”
He and Kenny O’Connor, his only employee, find the system has many advantages which sees them spending an afternoon setting up fences ready to facilitate them for up to three weeks.
Paddocks are about 1.6ha (four acres) and sheep are moved every two days which, he says, they soon get used to.
Andrew says: “It is useful to see every single sheep going past as they move to a new paddock.”
Over the last three years, he has found rams on chicory have a daily liveweight gain of 300g/day, almost twice as much as he would expect on grass.
He expects lambs to have daily liveweight gains of 150g or more and sells them to either Scotbeef at Bridge of Allan or Lanark market, with most being away by Christmas.
He also supplies Overton Farm Butchery with about six lambs per fortnight from June through to February. The Beltex influence means most lambs are E grades.
The pedigree flocks provide rams for the commercial flock, but Andrew also sells about 60 each year. He has an early-lambing nucleus of Beltex to produce ram lambs for the main breed sale at Carlisle in August, where last year he was thrilled to sell a shearling for his best ever price of 13,000gns.
Callacrag Wisecrack was by Muirton Toy Boy out of a ewe by Clary Prankster, which has been one of the most influential tups in the flock in recent times.
He also sells a few Beltex at Lanark, but his main sale day is Kelso in September, where he sells Beltex, Texel and cross rams.
He says: “The Beltex/Texel cross is very popular with people who have traditionally bought Texels but are looking for a bit more shape.”
Last year, his rams at Kelso averaged £991. A small show team of pedigree sheep from Carstairs Mains does the local circuit of shows each summer, as well as the Highland, but Andrew’s biggest success has been at fatstock shows, such as the Winter Fair. Here, his Beltex cross Texel lambs regularly win both live classes and carcase events.
With an eye on costs and a feel for where savings can be made, helped by modern technology such as EID and recording, Andrew is in a good place to cope with whatever farming throws at him in years to come.
“As start-up farmers with no entitlements, we have had to make the farm work for us. The monitor farm process helped us with that and I am confident we can reach our target of 1,000 ewes over the next few years and continue to farm profitably.”