Scottish Sheep Farm of the Year 2018
Charley Walker from Barnside Farm, one of the assessors this year and recipient of the 2017 award, admitted that it was incredibly hard to decide who should receive the award this year as both businesses excelled at what they did.
He said: “Incheoch and Bowhill are very different farms, but both share outstanding technical performance and a great passion and understanding of the sheep industry. Both have made and continue to make great strides in genetic improvement and have an excellent understanding of their market.”
Fellow assessor and AgriScot board member Hamish Dykes commented: “Although Sion and his team should be very rightly proud of what they have achieved, we were incredibly impressed by the McGowans foresight and courage to go down their chosen path at such an early stage. Long before any of us knew what a Lleyn actually was, Neil and Debbie already had a flock of them and were preparing to start their on-farm ram sale.”
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.
“It was a pleasure to visit the finalist farms, both of which demonstrated incredibly high-quality sheep production systems managed with real pride and dedication,” said Heather McCalman, Knowledge Transfer Specialist at QMS and fellow assessor.
Kenneth Mackay, partner in the Land and Rural Business team at Thorntons Solicitors, said: “We are delighted to sponsor the AgriScot Scottish Sheep farm of the Year award; it is a wonderful way to celebrate the fantastic sheep industry we have in Scotland. Many congratulations to the McGowans on their success this year.”
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.
Husband and wife team Charley and Andrea Walker, from Barnside farm in Abbey Saint Bathans, near Duns, are the winners of this year’s AgriScot Scottish Sheep Farm of the Year award.
The Borders farm comprises 250 hectares on the Lammermuir Hills, operating a low input, grass fed, organic farming system. The Walkers run 840 ewes and 220 hoggs, which are Easycare and most are bred pure, with all hoggs and a few ewes put to a New Zealand Texel ram. All stock on the farm are managed in a rotational paddock grazing system.
The aim of the 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. Run by AgriScot and QMS and sponsored by Thorntons Solicitors, the contest was overseen by a judging panel comprising Hamish Dykes, Heather McCalman and Graham Lofthouse, the previous winner of the award.
The judges were impressed with the Walkers’ passion and enthusiasm for sheep farming as well as the family’s commitment to recording and monitoring and analysing performance figures to ensure their business continues to improve.
“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,” said Mr Dykes, who is an AgriScot board member.
Fellow judge Ms McCalman, a Knowledge Transfer Specialist at QMS, 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.”
As winners, the Walkers received a £500 cheque as well as a £250 voucher to celebrate their success at a Scotch Beef Club restaurant.
“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, 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,” he added.
Kenneth Mackay: of award sponsors 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.”
Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy Fergus Ewing commented: “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 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.