The Scottish sheep industry needs to be able to react to market demands if it is to have a profitable future, according to Ian Campbell, Managing Director of Glenrath which is hosting Scotsheep 2016 next week.
The Campbell family, who are hosting the biennial event on June 1st at Blythbank farm, Penicuik, near Edinburgh, run around 15,000 acres primarily in Peebleshire with one sheep farm in Ayrshire.
Glenrath is also Scotland’s biggest egg producer and, while the sheep side of their enterprise must stand on its own merit in terms of profitability, the Campbell family clearly draw from their poultry experience in the way they manage their livestock.
Meeting the specifications being demanded by the market is one example of this with 95% of the Campbell’s lambs meeting abattoir target specifications.
According to Ian Campbell, Managing Director of Glenrath, who is very much hands-on in the day-to-day management of the family sheep business, meeting customer demands in areas such as animal welfare is also crucial.
“There is still a great future for farmers in the UK but we’ve got to react to what the market wants. One example is the quality assurance schemes which have a very important role in giving our customers, the major retailers, the assurance we are producing livestock to the highest standards and to the highest welfare standards,” said Mr Campbell.
“As an industry we have to keep on improving because the only way we will get a premium for our product is if we can prove what we are producing is better than what is being produced elsewhere in the world.”
The Campbell family came to Glenrath in 1961 from Argyllshire and quickly found themselves in financial difficulty.
“My parents were traditional hill sheep farmers but to succeed they had to diversify as the bank at that time told them they would not be able to carry on.
“So my mother diversified into growing pullets from day old chickens and went round Scotland in a transit van selling pullets and became known as the ‘hen lady’!” said Mr Campbell.
The family now has two million laying hens and pack and grade all the eggs which are sold to the major retailers in the UK. They are currently looking for Scottish hill farmers who might be interested in working with them to run free-range poultry units, alongside their livestock operations.
The Campbells’ sheep enterprise totals 10,000 ewes with their main breeds being 6000 Blackface ewes and 4000 Mule ewes. Around 2000 of the older Blackface ewes are crossed with the Bluefaced Leicester to produce the Mules kept on the lowground farms.
They also run a small flock of 50 Suffolk ewes which are kept to produce a terminal sire for Mules. They also have two flocks of Texels – one based at Glenrath Farm near Peebles with the other flock at Blythbank originating from one of the original importations of Texels to the UK, in the early 70s.
The hill farms are very extensive, with a typical stocking rate of one ewe per three acres, and careful grassland management is something the Glenrath team view as extremely important. The goal is to produce as much red meat from grass using as little cereal as possible.
The ewes regularly pregnancy scan at 200% with the aim being to wean them at 175% and flock health is viewed as key.
In this regard, David Wallace, Head Shepherd at Blythbank, said having a closed flock is a huge asset.
“All our progeny is home-produced so we never buy in trouble which we feel is very important in maintaining a healthy flock,” said Mr Wallace.
The Blythbank flock’s two biggest challenges in recent times have been foot health and improving the trace element status of the flock.
“To get on top of the trace element deficiency problem we have been blood sampling throughout the year and monitoring the effects of Nettex boluses.
“We’ve seen a huge improvement in the performance of our lambs’ daily liveweight gain coming straight off grass and we’ve not had to feed any cereals,” said Mr Wallace.
The sheep are also regularly run through a footbath, with pre-housing time viewed as a very important opportunity to ensure the sheep are sound.