FARMERS and crofters throughout Shetland came together last weekend to show their support for the new Shetland Monitor Farm.
Over 80 people attended the first meeting at Bigton Farm, which is run by sisters Kirsty and Aimee Budge with support from their family.
During the first meeting of the project, the Budge sisters gave an overview of the current farm business and highlighted that their aim was to make the farm more efficient, productive and sustainable in the future. They were joined by project facilitator Graham Fraser of SAC Consulting Lerwick, and Doug Bell from Quality Meat Scotland, who gave an overview of the programme and encouraged local farmers and crofters to get involved.
Bigton is one of nine new monitor farms being established in Scotland as part of a joint initiative by QMS and AHDB Cereals and Oilseeds with funding from the Scottish Government. The farm extends to 300 hectares, most of which is permanent pasture and intensive grassland. It carries 240 ewes and 70 suckler cows, and grows some barley.
The ewes are Shetland cross Cheviot, put to a Suffolk tup. The ewes lamb outside in May with most lambs sold as stores at Thainstone in December, but some retained and finished. Replacement females are bought from Oxna, one of the Scalloway Islands, off Shetland.
The 72 spring calving Salers cross Shorthorn suckler cows are put to a Charolais or Shorthorn bull, with the heifers put to a Salers. Charolais store calves are sold at Lerwick at 12 months while Salers and Shorthorn store calves are sent to Thainstone at the same age. Later calves are retained, finished off grass and supplied to local butchers on the island.
Following the farm tour, which featured talks from Kirsty, Aimee and their grandfather Jim, a number of areas of potential improvement were highlighted. These included looking at the performance and management of the ewe flock and whether grass on the farm could be better utilised. The group also identified a variety of other potential topics to be addressed by the monitor farm programme that would benefit both farmers and crofters on Shetland.
Aimee commented: “It was great for us to see farmers beginning to discuss issues they have on their farms, after we shared some of the problems we have identified on Bigton Farm.”
Forth monitor farmer Duncan McEwan outlined the many improvements he had made to his farm business while he was a monitor farmer. Although he admitted to being a little daunted initially about sharing the details of his farm business “warts and all”, he said he would do it all again “in a heartbeat” if he were given the opportunity.
One of Duncan’s key pieces of advice to “measure, measure and measure some more” struck a chord with the Budge sisters as this is something they are particularly keen to improve on.
“We know that we need to improve how we record the business’ performance, especially in our sheep and arable enterprises,” said Kirsty. “We weigh calves regularly throughout the winter and then split the calves and adapt their feed rations accordingly to reflect their daily live weight gains. This example of good practice could easily be adapted and used to monitor the live weight gains of our store lambs.”
MSP for Shetland, Tavish Scott, attended the meeting and was excited about the benefits that the monitor farm programme would bring to Shetland: “There has been a fantastic turnout from across Shetland today, which shows the interest and support both for the monitor farm programme and for the Budge family.”