Islay Estates Farming Update


Bowmore from Gartbreck

New developments on the Home Farm include the purchase of a new bull, Jawbreaker, cutting hay and the addition of 14 Luing heifers from Oronsay.


Jawbreaker and his girls

Last year we bought 6 Luing heifers from the RSPB; they had been brought up on Oronsay and so were well acclimatised to life on the west coast. They fared well at Gartbreck and were fairly calm and easy to handle.  This year we were faced with a choice – to breed from them or to sell.  If breeding, we had to decide on a Luing bull to continue their pure line or to cross them with a Simmental for beef calves.  The decision was not an easy one as we have all grown rather fond of the girls – have a look at to see the beginning of their story last year.  Eventually, after much soul-searching and deliberating we found a bull (or, more accurately, Donald Morrison of United Auctions found a bull) on Colonsay called Jawbreaker.  A slightly ominous name for an animal, although his previous owner says that he is a friendly chap with great character and fond of swimming!  We’ll keep our distance for the time being and I suggest any visitors to the farm do the same.  Jawbreaker is an experienced bull so we hope he’ll do the job over the next few weeks.

Farming is increasingly becoming a mixture between food production and environmental management.  I think it is fair to say that most farmers know more about wildlife and habitats than their predecessors – possibly helped by a financial incentive but also because we are more aware of what is around us.  We have developed farming methods with new machinery – sometimes at the expense of traditional methods.  An example of this is the hay bale which is generally large and round and can only be


Duncan cutting the hay

moved by tractor: but most people on Islay don’t grow hay – it is too wet and too risky; silage or haylage is a more reliable crop and it ensures that there will always be some winter fodder on the farm.  Last year we grew some lovely hay at Ardlarach and tried to do the same this year.  Unfortunately there has not been a dry spell of more than 2 days since June so any chance of drying the grass was impossible.  We have a small window of dry weather – XC weather says it will be dry for the next week so the grass was cut yesterday (3rd September) and we hope to bale it in about 6 days’ time. We’ll use small bales (traditional) so that the sheep can be fed in winter with one person on a quad bike; we find this old-fashioned method softer on the fields and much easier to manage with one person.  The grass was cut in a ‘corncrake friendly’ way – you can see in the photograph that Duncan McPhee is ensuring that any birds that may be in the grass are not caught in an island in the middle of the field but have a chance to escape.  Meanwhile we’re praying for dry weather….


Having taken the decision to keep our cows we also decided to increase the herd with another 14 heifers from the RSPB.  Like Ginger, Brownie, Blondie and co, these animals were brought up on Oronsay so they should be used to the climate – we hope they’ll do as well as last year’s.  All going well, we should have a herd of 30 cows in 3 years time.  We plan to continue with Luings for a while then introduce a Simmental Bull to produce Sim-Luings which have the size of a continental cow and the hardiness of a traditional west coast animal.

The barley is not looking too bad considering the weather – we are about a month behind as a cold spring and very wet summer meant there has been little growth.  Added to this we have the problem of thousands of Greylag Geese on Islay who can destroy a whole field of barley.  The Greylags have certainly increased in number and are causing problems all over the island – not helped by the lateness of this year’s crop which means that they have plenty to choose from.

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