QMS: How Monitor Farmers stay strong in challenging times

As last weeks snow on the hills and mountains melts, farmers across Scotland once again are digging deep, physically and mentally, to keep their heads above water. We catch up with Quality Meat Scotland’s Monitor Farmers and its programme manager to find out what they do stay strong at this testing time of year.

Posted on Apr 17 ,00:10

QMS: How Monitor Farmers stay strong in challenging times

"Today is a yellow weather warning with snow falling in Perthshire,” says Beth Alexander, QMS Monitor Farm Programme Manager who is calving on the family farm. “Our system is built around calving outside on stubble fields and getting cows onto grass as they calve but we are holding as many calves inside as we can with limited space left. The little grass growth we had has completely stalled with soil temperatures dropping back below 5⁰ and all seed is still sat in the shed. Hopefully some kinder weather will arrive for the lambs who will be appearing any day now".

"It’s comforting to think we’re not alone - this wet Spring has not been regional but spread across Scotland and the UK".

"My top tip is a good hot meal – homemade lasagne made with Scotch Beef mince packed full of veggies, easy to reheat on a miserable day like today when time is precious. Not only does it keep you well fuelled but also is a great peace offering when patience is wearing thin between tired coworkers in the lambing shed!"

Duncan Morrison, a monitor farmer from Aberdeenshire, also finds solace in being 'in it together'. He is planning on adapting calving dates next year, to alleviate pressure.

"Pushing calving back a week would mean we will be closer to Spring and grass growth,” he says. “Our due date is 7th April this year, but we have had a load of short gestation calves already and it’s been hellish weather for calving them. As an offshoot of that, the cows will spend more time in their winter set up and less time poaching calving fields, hopefully".

"I’ve also come to realise that I need more wintering scope, so I’ll be adjusting that for next year.

"Well-being wise, just speak to mates and neighbours, everyone is struggling so at least you can compare how rubbish it’s been together!"

Stepping away from the farm both for short and long periods of time helps, monitor farmer from Strathspey, Malcolm Smith, increase his resilience.

"For our mental well-being, we took a long weekend break on the Isle of Skye. We just chilled out, did some long walks and re-charged the batteries before the start of spring calving", he says. "Taking 10 mins to get a coffee and have a bit of craic with the girls at the bakery, is also a good way of escaping the pressure of work".

Checking in with friends and neighbours, and sharing any problems helps Malcolm put things in perspective.

"My top tip for coping with this wet weather has been the purchase of bib and brace waterproof trousers. They're excellent for calving too", he notes.

Malcom is feeding cows at night with the aim of increasing the number of cows calving through the day. "It means we get more undisturbed sleep, though it doesn't always work!"

Shona Duncan, a monitor farmer from Lands of Drumhead, near Drymen, agrees with Malcom on the need for good clothing.

"Make sure your waterproofs are up to the job; if you're warm and dry you can cope with anything!"

"We use lamb jackets for turning out young lambs and have kept our ewes out on rough ground this year for longer at Blairfad, just so that ground conditions are better for feeding".

Shona also advocates stepping away from the day job. "Take time out - even if only for 10 minutes – and spend it doing something enjoyable, like playing with the pups helps. Do something different, a change is as good as a rest as they say".

For Robert Wilson, a monitor farmer at Cowbog in the Scottish Borders, 'doing different' means mini rugby.

"Coaching at Jedburgh Mini rugby, Jed Jags, every Sunday from August through to May, forces me off the farm to be involved with something else - although there are a lot of farm kids involved which invariably leads to conversation about the weather!"

Jed Jags Minis celebrated their 50th Anniversary this year so along with coaching Robert was part of the organising team for a fund-raising dinner. Together they raised over £30k.

"Speaking at the dinner was fellow farmer and Hereford breeder Nigel Owens and it was great to welcome him out on farm the next morning".

On the farm Robert says changes to our use of elements of the AECS scheme has paid off this year with wild bird covers and grass margins being used from 1st March to 1st April to give some extra grazing.

"We planned this in our application so it was great to see it came to fruition and work effectively. With Dodds of Haddington, we are considering more carefully what we can sow in our wild bird covers this year to benefit biodiversity and still be productive come March".

Like the others, Robert recommends ensuring you stay warm and dry. “At what seemed like great cost I bought some Betacraft leggings and coat. Always sceptical, I wondered how it would handle the winter moving fences every day and the relentless wet. I've never been wet or cold apart from hands and face this winter. It's well worth the expense.”

QMS Monitor Farm’s top tips for well-being

  1. Invest in good waterproof clothing
  2. Ensure hearty nutritious meals are at hand
  3. Talk to family, friends, neighbours
  4. Do something different for a short while
  5. Consider what changes to the farm could make life a little easier

RSABI offers free practical, financial, and emotional support including counselling services, delivered quickly after receiving the initial enquiry. Its free confidential support service is available 24 hours a day, every day of the year, by calling 0808 1234 555, calls won’t show up on phone bills, or through a confidential webchat service, available on RSABI’s website.

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