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AgriScot Sheep Farm of the Year Award

No pulling the wool over their eyes: Family who first got their own farm just over 30 years ago take top award.

Being judged as the AgriScot Sheep Farm of the Year meant a huge amount to the Baker family. Collecting any accolade is a special occasion, but the fact Joe Baker is only the second-generation of his family to farm meant receiving the award was even more meaningful.

While it was just Joe, 32, and his wife Laura who attended the glittering awards presentation evening; the whole family including Joe’s parents Ted and Sharon along with their young apprentice Diezel Hume took a team awayday from work to enjoy the recent AgriScot event.

“While it was me who collected the event at the awards’ dinner, we are very much a team and it was important we did something together to celebrate,” explains Joe. “AgriScot seemed the perfect place to go!”

Windshiel Farm is a 500-acre family-run organic holding at Duns, on the edge of the Lammermuir hills in Berwickshire.

The Baker family run around 650 Lleyn and Lleyn x ewes, plus 110 hogs. There is a further 200 ewes kept on a shared farming agreement – which brings another 400 acres to the business. This extra land is located 20 minutes’ drive away from the main farm.

Ted and Sharon were born and bred in Bristol, and it was sheep that first captured their interest in farming, renting bits and pieces of land wherever they could, doing farm work for others and eventually building up a flock of 200 Dorset sheep.

They got their foot more firmly on the farming ladder with a share farming opportunity and moved north to Windshiel Farm in 1991 – bringing six-month-old Joe and the Dorset’s with them. Over time they were phased out and replaced with the Lleyn sheep; the thinking being they would not cope with the colder climate – at its peak Windshiel Farm’s land rises 1,000ft above sea level. Interestingly, the family got back into the breed in 2013, with Laura buying a Dorset tup at the local  Ellemford Show, with some ewe lambs soon secured to start breeding the foundation stock for Lanamuir Poll Dorsets.

“Looking back, it’s lovely that we have kept the connection with the Dorset sheep going,” says Joe, who did an agriculture degree at SRUC (Scotland s Rural College) in Aberdeen.

“I think having had a break from them mum and dad looked at them through new eyes and realised they really are quite hardy. They are a good meat breed and it’s turned out they really complement our commercial flock, with us using Dorset rams as a terminal sire. This helps finish lambs quicker and hit better carcass grades.

“We lamb the pedigree ewes, there are around 25, outside in September and they then stay outside. They are very milky and good mothers, so aren’t a lot of bother to keep. They can come into season at any time of the year, but we find lambing them in September works well – not getting in the way of the commercial ewes, which we lamb in April.”

Joe is quick to praise his parents, who went organic in 2001 and made him a partner in 2013, for letting him plough his own furrow on the farm.

“I’ve been very lucky in that I’ve been given a lot of opportunity,” he explains. “Not a free rein, but certainly the scope to explore my own ideas and interests. I think taking more responsibility with the sheep is a natural progression in any family, as wrestling sheep is a young person’s game.

“All credit to mum and dad for encouraging me to spend time working away. I did a stint on a 2,000-acre arable farm and, like any young lad, loved driving all the new machinery. It was also great to make new friends and learn different things.

“Machinery is still an interest of mine and I like to take a turn helping a local contractor during the summer months.”

Joe and Laura, who works as a receptionist at a local vet’s practice, have two young children, four-year-old Harris and two-year-old Sophia.

“Although she’s always helped whenever needed, Laura is starting to get more involved in the farm now,” says Joe. “We are renovating an old stone barn into a holiday let, which we hope to get open in good time for the summer. She is also going to be doing some work on our social media, as well as supporting mum with her expanding workload.”

The family already sells meat at the monthly Portobello farmers’ market, in Edinburgh, with a handful of rare breed pigs kept completing the range of products offered for sale.

The Dorset ewes are good doers, so are kept as tight as possible once lambs have been weaned. They only need a little hay over winter, with spring grass just prior to tupping. The ewes receive hardly any hard feeding apart from a week or two before lambing to help bring milk on. Dorset ram lambs are either retained for breeding in the commercial flock or sold.

“It’s important to get them weaned off the Dorset’s early, with the ewes able to cycle throughout the year,” smiles Joe.

Around 900 Lleyn lambs a year are fattened through the summer off grass, sold direct to Farmstock.

Ambitions for Joe include building the ewe numbers up to nearer the 1,400 mark. Also taking the cow numbers up to 100. He has a particular passion for improving summer drought resilience, experimenting with different herbal lays and sward diversity. Any spare time has been spent planting trees, to both provide shelter and replace felled woodland in areas less favourable for farming.

60 head of Aberdeen Angus are kept. Like the Baker’s sheep, the cattle are mob grazed and calve outside from March, going on to be outwintered on a kale/turnip mix. Around 40 acres are down to the kale mix, with 20 acres deferred grazing.

“Keeping them outside is obviously better from an environmental point of view,” says Joe. “They seem very content on our system. I’m always interested in streamlining what we are doing, aiming for low input and high output. Youngstock are sold as stores at 17 months.”

Joe’s final comment on winning the Sheep Farm of the Year title, sponsored by Thorntons Law, is: “Just because we won the award we are not perfect. What we have learnt to do is make the best out of what we have got, which probably comes from mum and dad starting in a small way and constantly having to think outside the box to make a go of things.

“For those young and wanting to get into the industry don’t be scared and take the opportunities that come up. Push yourself out of your comfort zone and work with other people. Don’t necessarily work within the agricultural sector; it’s amazing what contacts and skills people pick up from whatever line of work they end up doing.”

The judges for the Sheep Farm of the Year category were impressed with Windshiel Farm’s holistic approach to integrated farming, with the sheep at the centre of what they do:

“Conscious of all aspects of sheep husbandry, Joe aims for low intervention at lambing, good mothering ability, is mindful of common diseases that affect productivity, as well as using innovative approaches to breeding stock. Joe is also mindful of the changing environment, making the most to create drought resistance grazing for his stock.”

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