Posted: January 16, 2019

Borders Farm looks for Guidance on Sheep Restocking Policy

The next meeting of the Borders Monitor farm on Wednesday 23rd January will focus on developing a strategy for restocking Whitriggs with sheep.

At the meeting, which will be held at the Auld Cross Keys Hotel at Denholm and begin at 10.30am, local farmers will be asked to discuss the options and the practicalities of restocking Whitriggs Farm, the Borders Monitor Farm, with sheep.

Robert and Lesley Mitchell and their son Stuart manage the 442 hectare Whitriggs farm near Denholm. In 2017, they were concerned that their sheep were not performing as well as they should. Blood tests revealed that Maedi Visna (MV) was present in the flock. Working closely with their vet and their management and community group, the family looked at  different ways to try and manage the effects of the disease in their flock,  but took the difficult decision in Autumn last year to dispose of the flock.

The family have managed 1,000 Easy Care and Blackface lambs on a B&B basis over the winter but are keen to start again and establish a new sheep flock at Whitriggs this year. However, the Mitchells are aware that there are lots of things to consider when thinking about restocking.

“We appreciate that we are in a unique position at the moment. Although we are disappointed to have lost our previous Lleyn flock, we realise that we have a great opportunity here to start again when we restock,” said Robert Mitchell.

He added: “We are really keen to take advice from local farmers and as many industry experts as possible to make sure that we approach the  restock correctly. We need to think about the best breed for our business, how many sheep to restock with and whether to restock with ewe lambs, gimmers or older sheep. We also need to decide the best time of year to restock.

“We know from bitter experience the effect that infectious diseases can have on a flock so we also need to ensure that we don’t buy in any health issues with the sheep we bring to Whitriggs. We will therefore be looking to invest in sheep from trusted sources and will be working with our vet to develop a robust quarantine procedure for when the sheep arrive.”

The breed of sheep to restock with is a big consideration for the family. Mr Mitchell commented: “We have always had Lleyns at Whitriggs, but are aware that there are other breeds that may also work on our land, so are looking forward to hear what other farmers in the area think we should do.”

At the meeting on 23rd January, three local sheep farmers will discuss reasons they chose the breeds they run and what they like about them. Kevin Stewart from Sharpitlaw near Kelso will discuss the merits of the Aberfields he manages, whilst Pete Scott from Dolphinston farm near Jedburgh will discuss why Lleyns suit his system best. They will be joined by Graham Lofthouse from Bankhouse farm near Stow who will highlight why Texel/Easy Care ewes work for his business.

Also at the meeting on the 23rd January, Haig Murray, Livestock Procurement Manager for Dunbia, will give a report on the latest market situation and advise farmers how to get their prime lambs to hit market spec, irrespective of breed.

As well as tackling practical problems at the meeting, Gavin Dick, Farms & Commercial Manager at the Agricultural Engineering Precision Innovation (Agri-EPI) Centre will give a presentation on their work and how farmers make better use of available technologies to improve production.

The Agri-EPI Centre has been established to drive growth and support innovative ideas to help farmers and business owners become more profitable and sustainable. The Mitchells are keen to hear how the iniative can help them, and other farms in the Borders, improve their efficiency by embracing new technology.

Whitriggs  is one of nine monitor farms established in Scotland as part of a joint initiative by Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) and AHDB Cereals & Oilseeds with funding from the Scottish Government. The aim of the monitor farm programme is to help improve the productivity, profitability and sustainability of Scottish farm businesses.

The meeting on 23rd January will be held at the Auld Cross Keys Hotel at Denholm, TD9 8NU and will begin at 10.30am. Lunch will be provided and the meeting is expected to finish by 2.30pm. All are welcome and the event is free.

To reserve your place (and lunch!) please contact Stephen Young, one of the project facilitators, on 07502 339613 or email stephen.young@saos.coop.

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