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I feel guilty because I would welcome warmer winters

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COLUMN: From the Farm by Victoria Ballantyne

I’m feeling a bit guilty at the moment and not just because I spent the festive break eating and drinking to my heart’s content, almost forgetting what green vegetables look like.

It’s mainly because I can’t help but think: “If this is climate change, it is kind of nice”. The mostly dry, mild, settled weather of the last month just makes everything easier and nicer, particularly as nearly all our stock are outside.

Victoria Ballantyne.
Victoria Ballantyne.

It also makes it a less expensive winter. Cattle spend a lot of energy generating heat in cold, wet weather and it is very noticeable how much this increases their appetites.

In dry, mild weather they are much happier to sit around in the sun, chewing their cud, consuming much less silage and straw.

Despite this, I was slightly flabbergasted to see the Sky News reader joyfully reporting the ‘good news’ that January 1 was the hottest New Year’s Day on record. She seemed to completely miss the point that this is actually a pretty worrying statistic.

My primary concern is that our plants and animals will not be able to adapt fast enough to changes in the seasons and we will lose many of them forever.

Secondly, that whilst I’m enjoying warmer winters, what might our other seasons look like?

We had just 700mm (28 inches) of rain last year, with only 22mm falling between May 25-July 25.

This made it a challenging summer to grow and manage grass, though we made up for it with one of the best autumns in years.

Learning to manage and adapt to changing seasons is going to be crucial for all land based businesses. I just hope nature can adapt fast enough to survive also.

January is very much a tick over month for us.

All the cows are outdoors. The younger cattle on turnips are getting a daily allocation and silage, whilst the main group of older cows have a large feeding pad that keeps them going for several days.

We have the calves spread across a few places, those outdoors on rougher ground are enjoying a bit of space to roam and get silage when needed.

The calves in sheds are getting silage and grain beet (draff and sugarbeet pulp mixed together).

We don’t push our calves over winter but try to get them back grazing as early as possible and have found we do get compensatory growth once they hit grass again.

The rams have had their annual four weeks of romancing and will spend the next 11 months doing very little (what a life!).

The ewes are spread about, with those at home on one last grass rotation before we close off the fields at the end of January when they go on to swedes and silage.

We try to rest the fields for a minimum of 60 days. Getting the balance right in grazing is tricky.

We need to leave enough leaf that there are some plant solar panels ready to grow when warmer weather arrives, but also make sure we don’t leave too much behind that will either be lost to the frost and/or create a thatch that prevents the spring grass from coming through.

Everything from now on will be managed so we give ourselves the best chance of having plenty of grass in early April to get the stock onto before lambing and calving.

As we don’t plan to buy any concentrate feed, getting this right is crucial to colostrum quality and therefore the health of all the lambs and calves.

Victoria and Jason Ballantyne run Clynelish Farm, Brora.

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