For the Ingram family, William, Carole, sons Gregor and Bruce and daughter Amy, the future of their sheep farming enterprise is wholly in their own hands, with the business centred around a successful tup breeding enterprise which aims to cater for commercial farmers’ needs.
And it is this desire to have as much control of their business as possible that led the family to develop their own widely acclaimed on-farm tup sale which offers performance recorded tups at fixed prices. It has been quick to catch on with buyers, with this year’s sale achieving a 70% clearance.
Flock management has taken a dramatic shift in recent years, with the pedigree flocks now largely lambed in April, with only small, elite nucleus flocks lambed earlier in the year, with Charollais lambed in December and Texels in February. The move to later lambing has helped cut feed use and other input costs, with ewes lambing to coincide with grass growth and no creep feed used for the lambs, explains Willie Ingram.
“The pedigree sheep sector can be somewhat detached from commercial reality and the high input and labour costs made us question the profit per acre if we challenged ourselves to produce purebred tups in a commercial system with minimal inputs.
“But keeping small nucleus, elite early lambing flocks is crucial to the marketing strategy. These are used as a marketing tool for the main part of the business. Showing at both local and national shows is the best shop window we have and gives us valuable contact with commercial producers.”
And, with more land becoming available locally, the Ingrams have in recent years also developed a Lleyn flock to allow output to be increased further without the need for extra labour. “We wanted to develop an easier care commercial flock and in time we’re also developing a hybrid crossing sire – the Logie Durno Hybrid – from this flock which we sell to other commercial producers to breed female replacements with.”
Willie also runs a successful pregancy scanning business which takes a lot of time through the winter, so later lambing fits the labour demands of this, too.
This business was also a major catalyst in the significant changes which have occurred in the business in recent years. “Contact with so many commercial producers has helped to focus our ram breeding programme on their needs.”
Technology has been at the heart of recent changes and the family are committed to using performance recording as a tool to improve their flocks, receiving the Johnstone and Carmichael trophy in 2008 for their efforts to promote the technology in Scotland. And this, alongside the use of embryo transfer and AI has helped them develop one of the most widely recognised pedigree businesses in the UK sheep industry with their Charollais regularly topping breed society sales.
The move to later lambing and desire to reduce feed costs has helped focus the family’s attention on improved grassland management, with leys rotated every four to five years and novel crops, such as chicory also being included, explains Carole. “We’ve also used a new grass variety this year which should be able to withstand the colder climate here in Aberdeenshire and grow earlier in the season.”
The need to remain focused on maximising income from the sheep business is also driven by the small single farm payment they receive. “When we first bought the farm we rented a lot of it to cereal growers as that was the best way of making it pay. However, as a result the tenants had the land during the reference years, so on a holding of more than 500 acres we have an SFP of less than £10,000.”
Much of the farm is also managed with the environment in mind and there are two con-current agri-environment schemes in operation, involving hedgerow management, pond creation, wetland management and species rich grassland. Furthermore, GPS mapping and appropriate fertiliser applications to grassland are also helping reduce the farm’s impact on the environment and cutting costs at the same time.
THE JUDGES LIKED
• Innovative breeding, marketing and sales strategy
• Maximising use of technology through AI, ET and performance recording
• Strong family business with clear succession plan
• Actively seeking new opportunities
• 515 acre grassland farm, 215 acres owned, 300 acres rented
• 1500 ewes
• Four pedigree flocks
• All family labour