THE McGowan family from Incheoch, near Alyth, in Perthshire have been announced as the winners of this year's AgriScot Scottish Sheep Farm of the Year award.

Husband and wife team Neil and Debbie McGowan, in partnership with Neil’s mother Judy, father Finlay and sister Clare run the 485 hectare upland farm at the foot of Glenisla, running 1100 Lleyn ewes on a low-cost sheep system in terms of capital and labour, along with a suckler herd. The farm uses EID technology and EBVs to help produce ‘functional, efficient and robust breeding stock’.

The McGowans are dedicated to improving the genetics of their flock and enhancing the commercially relevant traits, particularly maternal characteristics. The foundation of the sheep business is prime lamb production, however they have been selling grass-fed, performance recorded Lleyn and Texel rams at an on-farm sale for the last 11 years.

Prime lambs are sold to Woodheads but the McGowans also work with a local abattoir and butcher and sell 30-40 of their lambs direct to the public each year in bespoke retail packs.

The aim of the award is to showcase excellence in sheep production in Scotland and to raise the profile of the dedication of the Scottish sheep farmers who produce Scotch Lamb PGI.

Neil McGowan was delighted by the news. He said: “Being announced as the Agriscot Scottish Sheep Farmer of the Year is great recognition to the effort that everyone involved at Incheoch puts into what all Scottish Sheep farmers try to do - produce a great product, sensitive to welfare and the environment, in a business that offers a way of life attractive to the next generation.”

Cabinet secretary for rural minister for rural economy, Fergus Ewing, extended his congratulations to the McGowans.

He said: “I would like to offer my warmest congratulations to the McGowans on Incheoch being named 2018 Scottish Sheep farm of the year. They are excellent ambassadors for our Scottish sheep sector and have shown how technology can help to produce an efficient and robust breeding stock, while enhancing it commercially. I wish them every success moving forward.”

He also congratulated finalist farm Bowhill Farming Ltd, in Selkirk, managed by Sion Williams and his team for their commitment to producing Scotch Lamb.

Charley Walker from Barnside Farm, one of the assessors this year and recipient of the 2017 award, admitted that it was incredibly hard to decide who should receive the award this year as both businesses excelled at what they did.

He said: “Incheoch and Bowhill are very different farms, but both share outstanding technical performance and a great passion and understanding of the sheep industry. Both have made and continue to make great strides in genetic improvement and have an excellent understanding of their market.”

Fellow assessor and AgriScot board member Hamish Dykes commented: “Although Sion and his team should be very rightly proud of what they have achieved, we were incredibly impressed by the McGowans foresight and courage to go down their chosen path at such an early stage. Long before any of us knew what a Lleyn actually was, Neil and Debbie already had a flock of them and were preparing to start their on-farm ram sale.”

Knowledge transfer specialist at QMS and assessor, Heather McCalman, said: “It was a pleasure to visit the finalist farms, both of which demonstrated incredibly high-quality sheep production systems managed with real pride and dedication.”