A CUMBRIAN-based college has launched a new £430,000 sheep husbandry centre, cementing its place as a knowledge transfer hub for sheep farmers across the UK.
The state-of-the-art innovation at Newton Rigg College, Penrith, is heralded by the college’s head of agriculture, Matt Bagley, as of national significance, and is a place where hill farming can move with forward with the times, while maintaining the traditional values associated with the skill.
The multi-functional centre at Low Beckside Farm measures 36m by 25m by 2.95m and allows trainee shepherds to adjust the removable penning when needed. Technological investments have also been made with the aim of facilitating stocking and management regimes.
New scanning systems, which enable individual animal data to be recorded, have been installed to speed up farmer decision-making.
Only the second of its kind in the UK, a battery powered Combi Clamp has been specially designed for the college.
Mr Bagley says: “This kind of kit is a revelation for a shepherd. It enables us to store data on a central hub and also allows us to complete tasks, such as drenching or shearing, on one machine. It reduces the stress of the sheep and handler and generally makes the job easier.”
Commenting on the importance of the build for the sector at large, Mr Bagley says: “This is the only college in the UK which has such a centre. It has been specifically designed to uphold the highest of welfare for both stock and staff. Our ultimate aim is to facilitate the next generation of hill farmers, with enthusiasm and efficiency at the fore of our work.
“The sheep holding shed has everything a shepherd could possibly need in once place, and can be redesigned when needed for a particular job. Prior to the build, lambing took place in many different places, and it was hard to keep track. This season was the first time we used the new facility and there was a noticeable improvement in the health status of the flock.
“Local people have been involved in the construction. We have worked closely with local advisory groups and the success of the facilities would not have been possible without the team work of the local community.”
Newton Rigg was taken over by Askham Bryan College in 2011 and since then has seen a huge increase in the number of students studying agriculture, from less than 20 six years ago, to today’s figure of 300
Low Beckside farm is situated in Mungrisdale, Cumbia, and is made up of 65 hectares (160 acres) of lowland and 1,800ha (4,448 acres) of hillside.
The farm currently keeps a closed, self-replacing flock of 350 pure-bred Swaledale ewes which are kept on the upland. They also maintain a similarly sized flock of draft ewes, which are crossed with Bluefaced Leicesters and Abatexes to produce Mule variations, with 14 rams are also kept onsite.
Matt Bagley says: “The breeds have been carefully selected for their efficiency and ability to cope with the hard Cumbrian winters.”