Trees benefit livestock and finances, says upland farmer

A Perthshire farmer has explained why he backs a national campaign for more trees on sheep farms.

Image: Neil Williamson (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Image: Neil Williamson (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Andrew Barbour hosted a National Sheep Association gathering at Mains of Fincastle as part of an NSA-backed initiative to highlight the benefits of integrating sheep and trees.

He said 10 per cent of the 540ha mixed sheep and cattle farm, all at 300m or more above sea level, was given over to coniferous shelter belts and commercial timber plantations.

"Every previous generation here has planted shelter belts or woodland on the poorer land where there is access for lorries," he said.

"Timber is like a source of extra working capital that you can draw on periodically. It makes sense to diversify and spread your risk. It doesn't need to affect stocking rates."

On the benefit of trees to livestock, he said: "The primary objective of the woodland is to provide shelter for stock as there can be fierce weather here, even in summer. The cattle are woodland-edge animals and as soon as there's a drop of rain they head for the trees. They're happy in there and a happy animal produces a good calf."

Sheep meanwhile "don't go near the trees when the weather is fine", but the woods "act like sheds" in winter, he added. "The benefits of forestry to farming can translate into pounds and pence saved."

The tree and sheep enterprises generated similar pro-rata annual returns, he said, but added: "It's difficult to make meaningful comparisons because margins are different and we keep the best land for agriculture. But the two businesses work well together."

The gathering was the first of a series of on-farm events within the Sheep and Trees initiative, which is also supported by the National Farmers Union Scotland, Forestry Commission Scotland and Scottish Government.

The NSA supported the Woodland Trust's publication of guidance on trees and sheep two years ago.

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