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Glenapp Estate
Charlie Russell
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Farmers Guardian Article 19.10.12
Posted: 14th Nov 2012

WHEN in Australia in his early 20s, Charlie Russell found himself working for a third generation farming family in Queensland, who told him about a wonderful place called Glenapp in South West Scotland, where they had originally come from. When he returned to the UK, he was browsing the paper for positions and it seemed fate that Glenapp was advertising for a manager – the rest is history.

The Glenapp Estate might be beautiful, but it is not without its challenges. Situated in a stunning part of south west Ayrshire, the 5,000-hectare (12,350-acre) estate overlooks the Irish sea to the historic island of Ailsa Craig, where Scottish curling stones are still cut from the rare granite.

The estate, which belongs to the Inchcape family, consists of LFA ground ranging from sea level to 430 metres (1,400 feet) and most of the hill ground is classified a Site of Special Scientific Interest.

The challenge for the estate’s farm manager Charlie Russell and his team of 13 staff is to improve the profitability and efficiency of the agricultural enterprises, while increasing the biodiversity of the area.

A good example of this has been the decision in recent years to out-winter cattle on the hill.

The dung encourages more insect species, while grazing controls white-grass and allows the heather to thrive.

This, in turn, improves the habitat for moorland birds and both hen harrier and grouse numbers have increased in recent years.

Both sheep and cattle are crucial management tools in creating a richer variety of plant, insect and bird species on the hill ground, but it has not always been so at Glenapp.

When Charlie arrived in 2000, there were around 4,500 ewes running in 27 hefts, while 600 suckler cows were wintered inside.

They have dramatically evolved the enterprises by fencing the hefts, reducing sheep numbers by 1,000 and dividing the hill ewes into five flocks which are rotated round the hill paddocks.

This allows them to control the grazing and to save some of the hill from August onwards for deferred grazing for cows, which improves the grazing for the sheep.

“Sheep profitability on an upland farm like ours depends on rearing the maximum number of lambs to sale point,” says Charlie. And with this in mind they looked at different breeds and have based their system around the Easycare breed.

Reliability

Five years ago they purchased 300 nucleus ewes from Wales, which they performance record using the New Zealand SIL system.

Careful selection and rigorous culling over the last five years for prolificacy, longevity and milk means they now have a flock which Charlie says, ‘does exactly what it says on the tin’.

“We have found at Glenapp the Easycare produces 8 per cent more lambs to sell than any other breed we have tried.

“We now use rams from the nucleus flock on both Blackface and mule ewes, however we are conscious we do not want to charge down an alley for too long, so this year we have introduced performance recorded Cheviot tups which, potentially, will give us better conformation and hardiness.

“It will be interesting to compare the seven-eighths Easycare with the Cheviot crosses.”

Although sheep numbers on the farms are down to 3,500 now, their weaning percentages have increased.

The two lowland flocks of Mules and crosses scan at 176 per cent, with 152 per cent sold, while the Easycare scan the same, with 154 per cent sold.

The remaining 200 Blackface ewes on the highest part of the hill scan at 139 per cent, with 120 per cent sold.

Ewe lambs not kept for replacements are sold privately to repeat buyers, while the remainder, and all the wether lambs are finished off grass to start with, and then fodder beet and pellets.

The aim is to have them all finished by Christmas and all go to Dunbia in Wales.

Tups from the Easycare flock surplus to requirements are also sold privately with a two year guarantee. Customers to date have been easy to find and last year they sold 46 rams. The biggest problem for the sheep is ticks, and the ewes have to be treated either with dip or pour-on every eight weeks.

Fluke is also a problem, and dosing takes place three times a year for sheep and twice for cattle, while selenium and iodine boluses are also required to make up for deficiencies.

Unlike the cattle, the sheep are not in a health scheme and, at the moment, all the EID information is kept on Excel spreadsheets. Charlie and his assistant, Linda Paterson, look forward to the day when a comprehensive recording and data package is developed which will allow farmers to get some benefit from compulsory tagging.

Suckler cow numbers increased from 600 to 900 in the mid-2000s, and again a mixture of breeds have been used to try to breed exactly the right type of cow to suit the system.

Shorthorn bulls were initially used on the Angus cross cows and Simmental bulls on the Irish Blue-Greys. Heifers were kept and a few pedigree Shorthorn and Luing cows purchased, but since 2004 the herd has been completely closed and free from BVD, Leptospirosis, IBR and Johne’s.

Although just a young herd by Shorthorn breed standards, Charlie and cattleman Alan Diamond were delighted last year when they won the Shorthorn herd of the Year, judged by SAC’s Gavin Hill and Mark Holm from the breed society.

The pedigree and commercial herds are now strictly spring calving, within an eight-week period starting early April.

Last year 82 per cent of the herd calved in the first four weeks and anything which calves out within eight weeks is sold. Replacement heifers are always kept from those which calve in the first five weeks.

Fertility

Charlie and Alan regard fertility as the number one desirable trait, followed closely by the ability to put on weight.

“A calf has to have the genetics to gain a minimum of 1kg per day from birth to sale,” says Charlie.

The calves are creep fed from the beginning of September and weaned at the beginning of November. Cows then go back out to the hill until they come down in early March prior to calving.

Heifers go into a slatted shed, where they are fed a growing diet of silage and replacements are selected.

“We want small, efficient cows of about 580kg to 620kg from female lines which produce consistently good calves,” he says. “We stopped using the Simmental because the cows were too big and now concentrate on Shorthorn, Luing and red Angus crosses.”

A great believer in trying something new - just to check they are on the right track - Charlie has used a Charolais bull on some of the cows this year.

“It will be interesting to see if the heavier calves make more money,” he says.

The cows thrive outside on the hill, being forced to forage throughout the winter with only supplementary minerals provided. It is this which has greatly improved the quality of grass and heather on the hill.

They come inside in March and are fed silage in preparation for calving. The whole lamb and beef system is based around the grass growing season.

“The one thing we do well in this part of Scotland, with an average rainfall of 60in, is grow grass, so it is important to make the most of it.”

They have employed arable technology in their bid to optimise the grass at Glenapp and have GPS soil tested all the grassland so that variable rate N, P, K and lime may be applied.

They also measure the grass growth every week so they know how best to utilise it.

“Recent improvements had seen some grass hill paddocks, which historically yielded one tonne DM/ha increase to 13t/ha,” he says.

This ability to grow grass, especially in the improved parts of the farm, led the management team to consider a further enterprise.

In 2010, with the support of, and huge investment from the board of directors, they took the bold step of developing a dairy unit at Glenapp.

Having spent some time in New Zealand, and also by visiting units in Europe, Charlie took the best of the ideas to develop a dairy system which would fit in with the grass growing curve at Glenapp.

By using New Zealand Friesians crossed with Jerseys, they are developing small cows capable of milking high milk solids off grass.

“The LIC (Livestock Improvement Company) in New Zealand monitors and supplies genetics to 85 per cent of the country’s dairy herd.

Grassland genetics

“By using New Zealand Friesians, I believe we have access to the best grassland genetics in the world. They pick cows which can milk off grass.”

Although Charlie does not pretend to be an expert in dairying, he believes in the system at Glennapp.”I think grass-based systems have shown their strength in a year such as this when there has been so much volatility in both milk and feed prices.”

The young herd of 700 milkers is budgeted to produce 4,200 litres this year, but is projected to exceed that.

The milk is sold to the local cheese company in Stranraer - Seriously Strong Scottish Cheddar.

New Zealand dairy manager Arnon Langridge and his two assistants, locals Jim Murray and Mark Burns, combine their experience and knowledge to get the most out of the cows and they have taken the unusual step of confining the whole herd to an eight-week calving period from February 14, with a dry period from mid-December.

They admit this is tight, but with a good flush of grass helping fertility at bulling and also making use of tail painting and utero inspections, so far it is working well.

The cows are milked twice a day in a 70-point rotary parlour until mid October, when they go down to once a day milking in preparation for drying off.

About 50 per cent of the cows are out-wintered on silage and fodder beet and with few health problems, Charlie hopes in time to get at least six or seven years out of the cows.

Heifer calves not kept for replacements are sold as bulling heifers and the problem of what to do with bull calves has this year been solved by entering into a profit partnership with a Perthshire farmer.

Glenapp supplies the calves, milk powder and feed and the partner provides housing, labour and grass. The calves can be sold store or fat whichever is likely to leave the best return for the partners. So far they are pleased they are growing at a rate of 0.9kg per day.

Charlie spends about 80 per cent of his time on the farms and the rest dealing with the sporting and forestry sides of the estate plus the numerous properties, but he is incredibly appreciative of his 13 staff and says he still finds staff decisions the most difficult to make.

“I totally and utterly believe what makes it work is not the system or the breed, but the team behind it.

Staff

“We aim to be the best and employ the best, but I believe one of the biggest challenges facing our industry is encouraging people of the right calibre into agriculture. We need to be more inventive in how we do that.”

At Glenapp, staff are encouraged to be part of the business and develop to be all they can be. There are nights out and a staff awards night every year to keep morale on a high.

Although originally from Aberdeenshire, Charlie, wife Jill and their children have made Glenapp their home and they are certainly aiming to get the best out of their little patch of South Ayrshire by striving to improve each enterprise with the use of technology and careful management, which will ensure the long-term future of the estate.

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