Borders Monitor Farm to host efficiency and profitability themed open day

A borders family will discuss their progress trying to improve efficiency and profitability as part of a monitor farm programme will be highlighted during an open day on Wednesday, July 11.

Whitriggs Farm, near Hawick, was announced as a monitor farm in December 2016. Now halfway through the three-year programme, it is opening its gates to let anyone with an interest in livestock farming learn more about what they have been doing so far to improve the management of their business.

“The monitor farm programme has given us a whole new enthusiasm for our business and highlighted lots of opportunities for developing it in the future,” said Lesley Mitchell, who farms in partnership with her husband Robert and son Stuart. During busy periods, the couple’s other son, Alistair, also helps out.

She added: “The support of the management group and community group has given us the confidence to make changes to how we do things, introduce new enterprises and improve existing ones.”

At the event on July 11, which is free to attend, the Mitchells will highlight the changes they have made to their business so far and their plans for the next 18 months.

Together with neighbouring Denholm Hill Farm, the Mitchell family own 442ha of mainly semi-permanent and permanent grassland and grow approximately 40ha of winter wheat and oats for feeding their stock.

The family have 155 suckler cows, which are a combination of Beef Shorthorn cross and Aberdeen Angus.

In the last year, the family successfully introduced synchronisation and AI and have reduced their calving period down to just six weeks.

“We saw clear benefits of the cows calving within six weeks this year,” said Robert Mitchell. “Now we can manage the calves in a single group and the cows all have a clear month after weaning before they get put back to the bul

“We also used to finish all our stock on-farm but, after taking advice from the management group, decided to sell some of our bullocks as stores in September to free up grass for the remaining stock over the winter. We tried this for the first time last year and have seen a clear financial benefit in doing this.”

Also at the meeting, the Mitchells will give a progress report on the health of the 1,000 Lleyn ewe flock at Whitriggs.

Maedi Visna

After discovering that some of their ewes tested positive for Maedi Visna (MV) last year, the family now manage the flock in two separate locations in an attempt to keep the disease from spreading.

At the meeting next week, Andrew Robinson from Hawick Vet Practice will explain the various MV testing options available to help the family manage the flock in the future.

An important part of the monitor farm programme is the use of farm benchmarking to compare the financial performance of different businesses in order to identify areas for potential improvement.

At the event on 11 July, the family will share the results of the benchmarking exercise they recently conducted and explain how they intend to use that information going forward to improve their business.

Monitor farming

Over the last year and a half, the Mitchell family at Whitriggs have hosted nine meetings and have welcomed over 50 people to each of their events.

The monitor farm has addressed subjects including cattle management, flock health and grazing strategies, all of which have been selected by the management group made up of local farmers.

“We wanted the subjects that we discussed at our meetings to be relevant not just to what we are doing at Whitriggs, but also to others livestock farmers in the area so that everyone could benefit from them,” said Stuart Mitchell.

“We have been delighted in the numbers that have come along to our meetings so far and really hope that the enthusiasm for the monitor farm programme and the journey we are on here at Whitriggs will continue for the next 18 months.”

Whitriggs farm 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 July 11, which will be held at Whitriggs Farm, near Denholm, is due to begin at 2:00pm and is expected to end at 5:00pm. Attendees are then invited to stay on for a BBQ.

Places can be booked through Stephen Young, one of the project facilitators, on: 07502 339613; or via email on: [email protected].