Borders Farm announced as AgriScot Scottish Sheep Farm of the Year

A Borders farm was today (Wednesday 15th November) named as the winner of the 2017 AgriScot Scottish Sheep Farm of the Year award run by AgriScot and Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) and sponsored by Thorntons Solicitors.

Barnside Farm in Abbey Saint Bathans near Duns, run by husband and wife team Charley and Andrea Walker, was announced as the overall winner during a presentation in the main ring at AgriScot.

Barnside is a 250 hectare unit on the Lammermuir Hills which operates a low input, grass fed, organic farming system. In addition to the Walkers’ passion and enthusiasm for sheep farming, the judges were very impressed with the family’s commitment to recording, monitoring and analysing performance figures to ensure their business continues to improve.

The farm has a low-input profitable system that the Walkers’ have established by managing grassland to maximise stocking rate and returns on the business. All stock on the farm are managed in a rotational paddock grazing system.

The 840 ewes and 220 hoggs are Easycare and most are bred pure, with all hoggs and a few ewes put to a New Zealand Texel ram. Prime lambs are ready to sell from August to October with the remaining sold as stores in November. The farm also has 90 Welsh Black suckler cows and followers.

The aim of the AgriScot Scottish Sheep Farm of the Year 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.

The other two finalists were: Hilltarvit Mains, Cupar, Fife, run by Ian Whiteford in partnership with his wife, Margaret, son John and daughter-in-law Lucy, and Titaboutie in Coull, Aboyne farmed by Andrew Robertson in partnership with his retired parents, George and Jean, and his wife, also Jean.

Fergus Ewing, Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Connectivity, extended his congratulations to the Walkers.

He said: “I would like to offer my warmest congratulations to the Walkers on being named 2017 Scottish Sheep Farm of the Year. They are excellent ambassadors for our Scottish sheep sector and I wish them further success moving forward.”

The judging panel for the award consisted of Hamish Dykes, AgriScot board member, Heather McCalman, Knowledge Transfer Specialist at QMS, and Graham Lofthouse, winner of AgriScot Scottish Sheep Farm of the Year 2016.

“It was a pleasure to visit all three finalist farms all of which demonstrated high quality sheep production systems”, said Hamish Dykes, AgriScot board member and one of the award judges.

“The Walkers have established a resilient system at Barnside with minimal labour and bought-in feed and have developed a range of ingenious tools including a flexible gate, novel silage feeder and grass ‘lanes’ to ease management reducing time and costs.”

Heather McCalman, Knowledge Transfer Specialist at QMS and fellow judge, added: “We are delighted that we have a farm dedicated to producing quality Scotch Lamb PGI in an sustainably managed and profitable system. Charley and Andrea are very worthy winners and excellent ambassadors for our industry and the Scotch Lamb brand.” 

“We’re surprised and delighted to have won the award today. Running our farm business is very much a team effort involving all the family,” said Charley Walker who farms with his wife Andrea and their two children Tom (16) and Jessica (13) with support from part-time member of staff Alan Smith.

“Our sheep enterprise involves the use of EasyCare sheep, outdoor lambing and rotational grazing. We’ve come a long way but there is still plenty scope to further improve what we do to increase output without increasing our operational costs.”

As winners, the Walkers received a £500 cheque as well as a £250 voucher to celebrate their success at a Scotch Beef Club restaurant. The members of the club, run by QMS, are committed to serving top quality Scotch Beef PGI.

During the farm visits the judges looked for evidence of a high standard of technical and financial performance, uptake of new ideas to improve efficiency/profitability, a high level of health and welfare and a keen eye on the market for the end product. The judges were also looking to gauge the passion and enthusiasm of the farmer, and family and staff where relevant, to efficiently produce high quality animals.

Kenneth Mackay, partner in the Land and Rural Business team Thorntons Solicitors, said: “The AgriScot Awards are a firm favourite on the agricultural calendar and a great platform for farms to showcase innovative and new ways of operating. We’re always very impressed by the development of techniques that the farmers demonstrate each year.”

He added: “We’re proud sponsors of the Scottish Sheep Farm of the Year and Scotch Beef Farmer of the Year categories for 2017. Congratulations to the worthy winners of this year’s awards.”

All farms producing lambs destined to be used for meat sold under the Scotch Lamb label were eligible to apply and accordingly they were also required to be members of QMS’s quality assurance scheme.