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The pros and cons of running a mixed farm

We spoke to Fiona Skeen of Ford and Etal estate about why she runs a mixed farm.

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Fiona Skeen and her son Graeme run a mixed farm on Ford and Etal estate, where their family has farmed for over 90 years. With sheep, a beef suckler herd and arable to manage, we spoke to Fiona about why she runs a mixed farm.

 

“A big benefit for us is by growing crops, it saves us so much money on straw as I don’t keep my cattle on slats. We put muck back out on the fields cutting down on artificial fertiliser – and exchange our excess muck with an all-arable neighbour for extra straw which works well for both of us.

 

“From my experience, cross-grazing sheep and cattle produces healthier stock. For example, sheep eat host-specific worms for cattle and vice versa, reducing the overall worm burden on the pasture.

 

“We also see it as an advantage for pasture management. Sheep will eat the rubbish cattle won’t, like ragwort in its early stages. Cattle are much more selective grazers.

 

“Of course, the most obvious benefit of a mixed farm is that can spread the risk to your business; you ‘don’t put all your eggs in one basket’. Chances are, you never have a fantastic year for all three enterprises but at least one of them will be strong. There’s much less risk for us when we have something to fall back on.”


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Pros of running a mixed farm:

  • More sustainable – you can reduce the need to buy in fertiliser and feed by producing your own.
  • A more predictable income by having multiple streams of revenue should one market suffer.

Cons of running a mixed farm:

 

  • Poor economies of scale when compared to intensive farming.
  • Increased workload and managing multiple systems.
  • It requires thorough organisation and planning – and a good eye for detail when planning your biosecurity measures.

Farm facts

  • 304 hectares in Berwick upon Tweed
  • 89 hectares arable: wheat, oilseed rape, spring oats, winter oats and winter barley
  • 100 suckler herd - mostly angus cross
  • Couple of pet highlands
  • 500 ewes, lambed inside in February.

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