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New Monitor Farm for Shetland Announced

A family farm run by two sisters has been announced today (20th December 2016) as the new Shetland monitor farm.

Bigton Farm, run by Kirsty and Aimee Budge, is the sixth of nine new monitor farms being established in Scotland as part of a joint initiative by Quality Meat Scotland and AHDB Cereals & Oilseeds.

Kirsty (23) and Aimee, (19) are passionate about farming and keen to improve the farm business. They are also keen to raise awareness of the importance of farming on Shetland and the role of women in agriculture.

The Budge family have farmed at Bigton, on the west side of the Shetland South Mainland since 1860, initially as tenants before Kirsty and Aimee’s great grandfather bought the farm in 1950. The family also own nearby Toab Farm with the two farms being run side by side.

The sisters have been involved on the farm from an early age and then took over the day to day running of the business from 2014 with support from their family.

Kirsty works as a teacher on the island as well as running the farm and Aimee is in the final year of a HND in agriculture at SRUC Aberdeen Campus (Craibstone) and works on the farm out of term time. 

In total, the Budge sisters farm 300 hectares, most which is permanent pasture and intensive grassland. They have 240 Shetland cross Cheviot ewes which are put to a Suffolk tup. The ewes are kept on the stunning 80 hectare St Ninians Isle most of the year, which can be accessed from the farm by a sandy causeway. The ewes return to the arable fields for flushing a month before tupping and again for lambing. The ewes and lambs are then turned back out onto the isle a week after lambing. The lambs are either finished or sold as stores at Thainstone in December.

Kirsty Budge commented: “We are happy with our sheep numbers but would like to see if we can improve our lambing percentages and the growth rates of our lambs so that we can get them away quicker.”

The sisters also have 70 spring calving Saler cross Shorthorn suckler cows which the sisters feel is a cow type which suits the farm. These are either put to a Charolais or Shorthorn bull, with the heifers being put to a Saler.

Aimee Budge commented: “Shorthorns work for us as they are hardy with some being outwintered which helps us keep our costs down.” The sisters sell most store calves at local markets at 12 months, but also finish some and supply local butchers on the island.

Bigton farm is one of just a handful of farms on Shetland that is suited to growing barley. The family harvested approximately 60 tonnes of barley this year, most of which was kept to feed their store calves and finishing cattle as well as store lambs and breeding ewes, with the reminder sold to local farmers. They are keen to increase their barley output in the future as they feel that there is a strong market opportunity to sell it on the island.

The Budges hope that being monitor farmers will not only help them develop their business and learn more about how they can make it more profitable, but that other farmers and crofters on Shetland will benefit from the programme too.

Aimee Budge said: “Farming on Shetland has some unique challenges – a short growing season means that cattle on the island are usually housed for longer, increasing feed costs. The weather, especially the high winds, can also be a challenge, and transport costs for animals, feed and other supplies are also much higher compared with most farms on the mainland. 

“While there are certainly challenges, there are also a lot of positives. Shetland is a beautiful place to live and work and has a wonderful farming community. People here are incredibly friendly and supportive and we really hope that the local farmers will get involved and make the project successful,” added Aimee.

The new three-year monitor farm programme is being run jointly by Quality Meat Scotland and AHDB Cereals & Oilseeds. It is establishing a group of farms to serve as monitor farms to help improve the profitability, productivity and sustainability of producers through practical demonstrations, the sharing of best practice and the discussion of up-to-date issues.

The new Shetland Monitor Farm plans to hold its first meeting in the new year. Those interested in getting involved should contact the project facilitator, Graham Fraser, SAC Consulting Lerwick on 01595 693520, or email frbslerwick@sac.co.uk

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