The Chapman family are looking forward to highlighting the improvements they have made to their farm business at an event on their Tophead Farm in Fraserburgh on Thursday 3 December.
This free event is the third of five monitor farm legacy events in November and December organised by Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) at former monitor farms around Scotland.
As farmers who were fairly new to producing beef from suckler cows, being involved in the QMS monitor farm programme proved a valuable business tool for Robert and Ethel Chapman and their son Iain.
The family partnership based at West Cockmuir, Strichen, Fraserburgh, started their suckler enterprise in 2001 when they purchased Tophead Farm which included a bit of hill ground. In 2004 they were keen to become monitor farmers in the area in the hope it would deliver some advice on suckler cow management, and it did not disappoint.
At that time the family were farming about 600 acres of mostly arable ground. Mr Chapman said: "We realised we had a lot to learn about cattle but we had an excellent community group and we learned just from listening to the discussions."
One of the key areas where improvements were made was in the health of the herd. Mr Chapman explained: "At that time we had a problem with Johnes; as a result of discussions in the monitor group we carried out a vigorous culling programme and became a closed herd and we are delighted that we have now got on top of the problem."
Visitors to Tophead Farm on 3 December will see some big changes, as the family have expanded the farming enterprise to 2000 acres, 1600 of which is arable. However they have also increased their suckler cow numbers from 120 to 180 and are planning on establishing a herd of 200 over the next few years, which Mr Chapman feels is the ideal number for one full-time man to handle.
The heifer finishing enterprise is where the Chapmans have made the most changes and, instead of a second summer on grass, the heifers not retained for breeding are kept inside and finished at 16 to 18 months averaging 340 to 360kg.
Mr Chapman said: "This system came about due to a trial during the monitor farm period when we split the heifers into two groups. We had better growth rates from those kept inside and a side-benefit is that it has freed up grass during the summer which has enabled us to increase cow numbers."
As the business has evolved since the end of its monitor farm role in 2007, the Chapmans have put fewer of their cows to the Charolais bulls and are increasingly using Limousin and Aberdeen Angus for ease of calving and to breed replacements. The programme taught them to record and monitor families for traits which they have continued to do and they feel the herd is gradually improving.
The family are looking forward to the legacy event and highlighting the changes which have been made over the years and the impact they have had on the business. Asked if they enjoyed the experience of being monitor farmers, they were quick to recommend it, saying they found it a “useful and positive experience.”
QMS 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 are as follows:
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