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Borders Monitor Farm Hosts Open Day to Highlight its Progress

The progress of a family farm near Hawick trying to improve its efficiency and profitability as part of a monitor farm programme will be highlighted during an open day they are hosting on Wednesday 11 July.

Whitriggs Farm near Denholm was announced as a monitor farm in December 2016. Eighteen months later and now half way 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 the 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, with support from Stuart’s brother Alistair in busy periods.

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 11 July, which is free to attend and open to all, 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 442 hectares of mainly semi-permanent and permanent grassland and grow approximately 40 hectares 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 cross. In the last year, the family successfully introduced sycronisation 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 bull.”

He added: “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 an progress report on the health of the 1,000 Lleyn ewe flock at Whitriggs. After discovering that some of their ewes tested positive for Maedi Visna (MV) last year, the family now manage the flock in two seperate 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.

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

To book your attendance on 11 July (and place at the BBQ!) please contact Stephen Young, one of the project facilitators, on 07502 339613 or email stephen.young@saos.coop.

For more information about the monitor farm programme visit www.monitorfarms.co.uk