Farmers Weekly Awards 2006
David MacTaggart is the Farmplan Sheep Farmer of the Year. Here’s why he won:
Having the vision and determination to radically change any farming system takes bravery and faith. To do so when the existing system is already leaving a healthy return would, to many, be foolish.
But for Bonchester Bridge-based David MacTaggart, it was the thought of what he could do rather than what he couldn’t that spurred him on to reinvigorate his sheep enterprise.
That isn’t to say David is making change just to make life easy. As with everything he does at Hallrule Farm it is being done with a view to making money.
Recent budgets show the sheep enterprise is contributing a healthy gross margin of £43 a ewe to overall farm income, with a substantial amount of this margin being profit.
Delve further into David’s farming mindset and you find a man eager to return something to the industry and the environment. He is keen to leave the farm in a better state than it was in when he took it over.
Having recognised in 1992 that employing a shepherd on his original flock of 800 ewes was uneconomic, David set about devising a system which meant he could manage the flock alone.
This meant going against convention and lambing all ewes outside in May, resulting in a significantly reduced workload.
With the chance to completely redesign his sheep enterprise in light of the removal of direct subsidies, David took the opportunity to visit other units and assess which breed would suit his farm and enable him to have a life away from the farm, too.
As a result, he is now crossing as many of the Mule flock as possible to Romney rams sourced from a flock based heavily on New Zealand genetics. He has also made trips south to Kent to source Romneys from their native area.
And it is not just the breed which is changing, as the farm is being gradually altered to make stock management easier and simpler. Investment is being made in handling systems designed to ease workload and boost productivity.
The flock last year produced a gross margin of £76,894 (£43 a ewe), contributing a sizeable amount to the farm’s overall net profit.
Beyond the sheep enterprise David works to help the local farming community, being involved with the Borders Quality Beef Group marketing breeding and finishing cattle between farmers, as well as developing a range of ready meals with a local hotel to use poorer cuts of meat from finished animals.