Local farmers showed their support of the new Sutherland Monitor Farm last week, with over 50 attending its first open meeting.
Clynelish Farm, near Brora in Sutherland, is a 125-hectare farm run by Jason Ballantyne and his wife Vic, in partnership with Jason’s dad Murdo. It is one of the nine new monitor farms that has been established in Scotland as part of a joint initiative by Quality Meat Scotland 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. At the meeting, Vic and Jason gave a tour of their farm and an overview of their current farming policies and shared their aspirations for the next three years of the monitor farm programme with the group.
Although the Ballantynes are passionate about farming, they have managed to maintain a work life balance that most farmers would be envious of.
Vic Ballantyne explained: “We love farming and are always looking at ways to improve what we do so that our business is sustainable in the future.
“However, for us, we need a good work/life balance, so we are keen to develop a low input, high output system, as well as improving the consistency of their product and find innovative ways to develop our business.”
The energy, openness, enthusiasm and passion of the husband and wife team shone through throughout the day, as well as their superb record keeping skills.
The family have 80 suckler cows which are a mostly a mixture of Simmental cross native breeds. Calves are born outside in May and June and are sold as stored at Thainstone at 10 months old. At the meeting, the Ballantynes shared detailed data of the performance of their 2016 born calves with the group on the day. The data included the average dailyweight gains both before the calves were weaned in November (1.17 kg/day), and since (1.06 kg/day) and the couple were keen to hear ideas how they could improve on this in the future.
The Ballantynes also shared detailed scanning and lambing data form the last six years with the group. The flock of 900 breeding ewes, of which about half are Lairg type Cheviots and the other half Lleyn cross, currently lamb outdoors at the end of April.
Two things that the Ballantynes are keen to focus on this year is to increase their current scanning rate of 161% to over 170% if they can, and look at ways to increase the survival rate of lambs at weaning from its current 144% to over 150%.
The family are looking forward to the challenge of being involved in the initiative and the potential to take their farm business to a new level.
Jason Ballantyne added: “I think it is really important to us as farmers to challenge ourselves and look at our businesses and the way we do things. Hopefully by doing this, we can go on to make improvements and improve our bottom line.”
Farmers who attend the meetings at Clynelish will be able to suggest changes that the farm can make to improve its efficiency and then monitor the results on the farm over the three-year period of the programme. The community group can also choose topics and speakers for future meetings and discuss issues that are local to Sutherland.
Those interested in being involved in the project should contact Willie Budge or Cat MacGregor, the project facilitators at SAC Consulting Thurso on 01847 892602, or email FBSThurso@sac.co.uk