Importance of Embracing PR Opportunities Highlighted By Hamish Dykes

One of the speakers at the QMS "Sharing Best Practice" conference yesterday (12thFebruary) was instantly recognisable to the delegates, having been on their TV screens every evening for a week last March.

Hamish Dykes and his family played host to the BBC's popular live show, Lambing Live, on their South Slipperfield Farm at West Linton last year and at the conference Hamish shared some of his thoughts on how farmers can embrace PR to help promote their businesses and the Scottish livestock industry.

Hamish does not claim to be an expert on PR but he enjoyed the Lambing Live experience and reckons it has made him more aware of the relationship between farmers and the general public. "Before being involved with the TV programme I did not give PR much thought but now I believe it is important. There is no other industry where the public has so much access to the workplace," said Hamish Dykes.

He continued, "It is imperative that the public appreciate and understand what farming is all about and are on our side."

Mr Dykes believes that, despite the work of organisations such as the Royal Highland Education Trust (RHET) the public has become more disengaged from farming and what goes on in the countryside around them. 

He said: "There are a number of reasons for this, but one is that there are fewer people working on farms now, so cottages are rented out to people who are not interested in farming.

"A change in shopping habits has also made a difference, with the demise of butcher’s shops in many villages and towns; consumers expect meat to be vacuum packed and available on-line, removing them even further from the rearing and production process."

Since dipping his toes in the water of PR and media, Hamish now believes strongly that all farmers have a responsibility to promote their industry if they want consumers to support them by buying their produce.

He said: "These are our customers so it is important to create a positive image and build trust."

On a personal note, he said that the family had all enjoyed the experience of Lambing Live. His dad, John, mum, Kate and wife, Susie, are all involved in the farm business and Hamish and Susie's two children found it enjoyable when the TV crews were present.

South Slipperfield extends to 1000 acres of grassland including Mendick Hill which rises to 1500 feet above sea level. It supports a stratified sheep flock of nearly 900 ewes plus 75 breeding cows which are mostly pedigree Simmentals.

The cows are spring calving and those not destined for breeding replacements or for the Stirling bull sales are usually sold store at Lanark, with a few heifers also sold for breeding.The Mendick prefix is well known and last February the Dykes achieved their best ever price at Stirling for a bull - 10,500gns for Mendick Delboy.

A flock of 300 Blackface ewes run on the highest ground, and ewe lambs are bought in each year to replace them. The Blackies are all crossed with their home-bred Bluefaced Leicesters - of which they have a flock of around 30 and sell shearlings each year at Kelso - to produce Scotch Mules.

Some of the Mule ewe lambs are sold and some retained and lambed as hoggs. Badger-faced rams are used on the hoggs, while Texel tups are put to the rest of the 300 strong Mule flock. The Dykes like the Texel cross ewe, which they view as worth about £15 to £20 per head more at five-years-old than the Mule, and he has now build up a flock of 200 by keeping replacements, which again he lambs as hoggs.

Mr Dykes said: "Lambing hoggs has been successful and economical for us; it means we get an extra crop from them but there is no difference in the cast ewe value at the end of the day."

All the wether lambs are finished and sold on a deadweight basis, mostly to Woodhead Brothers. The aim is for a 21kg carcase grading E, U or R 3L. The Dykes have been using Beltex sires on their Texel cross ewes and are finding that grades have improved, with the majority of them classified E.

Hamish Dykes believes that farmers have a responsibility to follow their produce through to the end process and one of his proudest moments during the filming of Lambing Live was when he persuaded the BBC to film the lambs at the abattoir.

"It was not on their agenda, but I felt it was important to show the whole story and we received some very positive feedback."

The Dykes family believe they were fortunate to have the opportunity to be involved with Lambing Live. However Mr Dykes did have a word of warning to farmers regarding the media.

"We were lucky but I would advise anyone who gets the opportunity to contribute to the media to make sure they are aware of exactly what they are signing up for. It is important to be sure that you know what message the article/programme is aiming to convey and trust the people producing it. If you agree with that message and feel it is the right message for the industry then support it."