The sandy shore fields of Kings Arms Farm enjoy some of the best views in south-west Scotland, but more significantly for the thousands of farmers who are expected to flock to Scotsheep 2018, they consistently produce top quality early lambs.
This foreshore farm at Ballantrae in deepest Ayrshire looks across to Ailsa Craig, Arran, the Mull of Kintyre and Northern Ireland, and while it certainly isn’t the most convenient location for a major gathering of sheep farmers, those who make the journey to the farm will get the opportunity to cast their eyes over some of the country’s best indoor lambing and grassland management systems.
The National Sheep Association (NSA) has been pursuing Kings Arms to host Scotsheep for several years, and NSA Scotland chairman, John Fyall, said he was thrilled that Robert and Caroline Dalrymple and their farm manager Andrew Maclean eventually agreed to the challenge.
He said: “The NSA people in this area kept highlighting this farm because it has consistently delivered well.
“It’s a fairly traditional enterprise with a very interested and investigative farmer and a farm manager who is delivering results year in year out.”
The sheep flock of 1,400 ewes comprises 1,000 Texel x Mule ewes, all of which are in-wintered.
They are firstly put to the Suffolk ram for the creep feeding of early lambs, followed by Texel and Beltex, and 400 Scotch Mules are put to Texel rams to produce replacement Texel cross ewe lambs.
Ewes are lambed from mid-February and lambs marketed from mid-May onwards through Farmstock Scotland to Woodhead Bros, Turriff, for the Morrisons supermarket group.
The all-grass farm also supports a suckler herd of 185 Limousin and Aberdeen-Angus x Friesian cows which are crossed with home-bred Charolais bulls from the farm’s 15-cow Charolais herd.
Andrew is aiming to get the first lambs away on May 15 this year and hopes to sell 185% after scanning at just over 200%, but in common with sheep farmers across Scotland, Ballantrae experienced a difficult February and March.
He said: “We started lambing on February 24 and by the start of March we had 400 plus lambs and only 12 outside. And we got nothing else out until March 4.”
While the shore fields account for only 60 acres of the 350-acre home farm and are a small percentage of the 800 acres farmed by the Dalrymples over three different properties, they are regarded as vital to the success of the business as no matter how wet the weather – and it does rain a lot down here – they are always dry and good for stock.
The farming team here is enthusiastic about sharing the unit’s impressive figures, but in a “warts and all” approach, they are also open about the challenges they face, in particular the ongoing battle with the infectious lung disease, OPA.
It was first diagnosed on the farm six years ago and at its worst, losses were as high as 70 ewes a year.
Andrew believes it’s time for the industry to be open and share its problems.
He said: “It was bad, but we seem to be getting through it.
“The deaths are getting less, and if we see it we get rid of the sheep. This year we’ve lost 10 and I reckon immunity is building up in the flock”
More than 190 trade stands have been confirmed for Scotsheep, including 28 breed society exhibits and 12 from individual breeders, and the event will include a farm tour as well as a show and sale of ewe hoggs.
Other highlights include a next generation shepherd of the year competition, stock judging events, sheep shearing competitions, a grassland demonstration, crook making, sheep dressing, wool spinning and felt making, fencing, dry stone walling and a farmers’ market.
The seminar programme will cover the likely impact of Brexit on trade, marketing and future industry support.
There will also be seminars on sheep health, the next generation and wool.
Three former Scottish champions and a former UK champion will be among a top field of 28 leading handlers who will be competing in the event’s invitation sheepdog trial 2018.
Former Scottish champion, Neil Gillon from Girvan, has organised the trials on behalf of NSA Scotland and will be competing himself.
He said: “Competition will be keen.
“Equally important is the participation of five young handlers and a number of novices who have been taking part in novice trials which are an important part of the training of handlers for the future.”
Judging will be in the hands of Alistair Stewart from Boreland, Lockerbie, who is current Scottish nursery champion and past Scottish team member and finished in the top 10 in UK championships.
The handlers will compete for a prize pot of £400, including £100 for the winner and £80 for the runner-up.
NSA Scotsheep 2018 takes place at Kings Arms Farm, Ballantrae, Ayrshire, on Wednesday, May 30.