Brian and Janet Hill are opening their farm gates at Plan Farm on the Isle of Bute on Thursday 26 November to showcase the improvements they have made to their farm business.
This event is the second of five monitor farm legacy events organised by Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) at former monitor farms around Scotland, which are taking place in November and December.
The Hills were QMS monitor farmers from 2006 to 2009 and have continued to make changes to the way that they farm, which has increased both the productivity and profitability of their farm.
Grassland at the 1,600 acres (650 ha) upland/hill Plan Farm has been much improved on both the lower and some of the higher ground, facilitating an increase in cow numbers from 100 to 120.
“Grass underpins everything we produce,” explained Brian Hill. “Before the monitor farm, in our quest to grow grass, we simply slapped on compound. By the time we’d done that, we reckoned we couldn’t afford lime.
“But the monitor farm taught us how crucial it is to prioritise soil pH. Ever since, we’ve applied calcium lime annually, which has significantly lifted pH levels. Pre-monitor farm, the soil-tested areas averaged 5.05. In 2014 all these areas were at least 5.6, with a peak of 6.4.
“We can clearly see the overall improvement and are convinced that grass is now growing earlier in spring and lasting longer into the winter.”
Six years after the monitor farm programme ended at Plan farm, the Hills are continuing to see the benefits of the advice and guidance they received from specialists and fellow farmers who supported them at the time.
Mr Hill commented: “Back in 2006, the group suggested reducing the bulling period from 12 to nine weeks. This year, of the 115 females calved, 84 had calved by day 21. By day 42, there were only four left.”
He added: “Before becoming monitor farmers, if some of the cows weren’t in calf, we might have given them a second chance. I was told to stop doing that. I did and won’t ever do it again!”
Sheep fertility has also increased as a result of the changes Janet Hill has put in place. “Just one ewe scanned empty ahead of this year’s lambing,” she explained. “And my rams, which now get 80 ewes each thanks to monitor farm advice, all get a pre-tupping MOT.”
Electronic identification offered the potential of a host of useful sheep performance information, and the community group encouraged the Hills to EID their sheep to improve productivity. By easily identifying the better and poorer performing lines, the Hills ensure that only ewe lambs from the good lines are kept.
Ask the Hills to summarise what their monitor farm experience did for them, and you get double-barrelled enthusiasm at full blast.
“It’s almost 10 years since our first meeting, and looking back has made us realise just what the monitor farm experience helped us to achieve,” said Mr Hill.
“Throughout the three-year term, we needed to make sure that everything we did was done right and that we could justify why we did it at the next meeting. We admit some of the things we were advised to do, did challenge us and push us outside our comfort zone.”
Quality Meat Scotland is hosting a series of monitor farm Legacy events in November and December to highlight how their businesses have progressed since their time in the spotlight as monitor farms. The remaining events will take place as follows:
Thursday 3 December
Robert and Ian Chapman host at Tophead Farm, Lonmay, Fraserburgh, AB43 8UY
Wednesday 9 December
Robbie and Kirsty Newlands host at Cluny Farm, Rafford, Forres, IV36 2SJ
Thursday 17 December
The Scott family will also host an open day at Fearn Farm, Tain, IV20 1TL
For further information about these events and to register your place, visit: www.qmscotland.co.uk/events