The next Nithsdale Monitor Farm meeting on Thursday, July 19 is set to focus on how technology can be used to increase efficiency on livestock farms.

Andrew and Aileen Marchant, who farm at Clonhie Farm, Penpont near Lockerbie, run 900 breeding ewes, a small herd of 20 Luing cattle and have recently invested in 100 deer hinds on their 300ha upland tenanted farm.

Like many other farm businesses across Scotland, the Marchants rely almost entirely on family labour, so are keen to see how technology can help save time and money.

“With Aileen working off-farm, I largely work on my own day to day, so need to look at ideas to help cut labour and make my life as easy as possible,” said Andrew Marchant.

With nearly 1,000 sheep to manage, we decided to invest in a sheep handling system with auto-shedder in May 2017, and although it was a fairly expensive piece of kit, we have already seen clear benefits of using the system.

The meeting next week will include a demonstration of the system at Clonhie, which not only allows the Marchants to weigh their lambs regularly and monitor their growth rates using Shearwell Data software, but has an automatic dosing gun element which is linked to the weigh crate.

This ensures that every lamb is dosed with the correct amount of anthelmintic based on its weight – which saves money on drenches and reduces the potential development of anthelmintic resistance.

Saving labour from the skies

The use of drones (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles or UAVs) has increased in popularity in agriculture in recent years.

The devices can be fitted with cameras and sensors to help farmers check the health of their crops and soil, as well as track livestock and survey farmland.

At the meeting on July 19, David Owen of Owen Farm Services, part of the 5Agri Group, will be looking at the use of drones on livestock farms, focussing on what is currently available in terms of assessing fields from above for poor yielding areas or soil compaction. He will also highlight potential future uses for drones.

Rhidian Jones of RJ Livestock Systems will be looking at grassland management technology, grass measuring devices and electric fencing.

Jones will also lead a discussion on the options farmers have for managing the current drought and ensuring there are sufficient feed supplies for the coming winter.

Social media

The benefits of social media will also be highlighted by Aileen Marchant, who works as a teacher at Wallacehall Academy at Thornhill when not working with husband Andrew on the farm.

She is keen to encourage farmers to connect with the public about what they do, either through social media, or by holding open days or hosting school visits.

At the meeting she will give a short presentation about how farmers, and the Scottish livestock industry as a whole, can benefit from talking the time to engage with the general public about farming.

Clonhie farm is now approaching the half way point of the three-year monitor farm programme, and to celebrate, Andrew and Aileen have kindly invited those who attend the meeting to a Scotch Lamb spit roast after the meeting ends.

Andrew Marchant said the programme had been enjoyable.

“It has really made us think a lot more about our business and the changes we, and other farmers, can make to the way we do things to make our enterprise more profitable and sustainable," he said.

We have a great management group who has supported us in our journey but realise that livestock farmers everywhere can benefit from the monitor farm programme.

"We are therefore really keen to hear from the farmers who come along to our meetings to help drive the programme and suggest subjects for future meetings that will benefit them."

The meeting at Clonhie Farm on Thursday 19 July will begin at 4:00pm with a lamb roast being served at 5:30pm. Places should be booked in advance through the group facilitator.