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Farm focus: Scottish young farmer works with parents to secure farm future

Danusia Osiowy reports on how the family are working together to manage their land in a sustainable way.


On the far north coast of Scotland, the Anderson family exemplify the core values of a family farm - collaboration, trust and communication.


John Jnr, 26, joined his parents John Snr and Katrine as soon as he left school to farm three separate units which are all situated on the outskirts of Thurso. The land extends to about 730 hectares (1,800 acres) and is a mixture of owned and rented.


There is 445ha (1,100 acres) of arable and grassland with the remaining 283ha (700 acres) rough grazing.


John Jnr shares day-to-day tasks with his dad while Katrine takes care of the administrative side of the business.


He says: “Farming is always what I wanted to do and there was plenty of work for me to take on, which is why I started at an early age and I have no regrets.”


John Jnr is quick to point out the farm is run in a far from rigid fashion, but the sound working relationship he has with his

father means responsibilities are shared and their skills complement each other.


He says: “My father and I don’t pick and choose our tasks on-farm but, on the whole, I will take responsibility for the sheep and Dad looks after the arable. We both share the running of the cattle.


“We really work as a family, putting in all the hours required to keep on top of work. We also have much-appreciated help from a neighbour during lambing and calving. It’s a true team effort.


When it comes to labour, John Jnr says the family run a tight ship and have been highly mechanised for a number of years, taking every opportunity to introduce labour-saving tools.


The farm runs 280 suckler cows and 900 breeding ewes. Cows are mixed breed crosses, with Simmental crosses making up more than half the herd.


Charolais bulls are used across the whole herd with a view to breeding yearling calves for the store market.

Mixed breed

No replacements are kept and in-calf heifers are bought-in. The family’s sheep are Lairg-type North Country Cheviots and home-bred Texel crosses, which run with Texel, Suffolk and Meatlinc tups.


About 350 acres of spring barley is grown, providing all the straw and barley they need, with any surplus sold.


“We believe the Simmental cross cows produce excellent Charolais cross calves which sell as yearlings and always demand a big premium,” says John Jnr.


“We are also keen to bring more hardiness into the herd without reducing quality and we had a good experience buying Salers cross cows two years ago which has certainly given us some food for thought.


“For sheep the Cheviots are bought at Lairg as four-crops and taken to our better ground where they go on to produce two more crops of lambs.”


Cows are fed ad-lib pit silage, minerals and sometimes draff. Calves are introduced to creep in summer and fed a TMR diet of pit silage, barley, draff and minerals in winter months. Sheep receive baled silage and blocks in winter and are sometimes given oats, depending

on the grass situation.


All calves are auctioned as stores, with most going through ANM Group at either Caithness Livestock Centre or Thainstone.


Cull ewes and store lambs go to Dingwall and deadweight lambs go to Woodheads Turriff in time for Christmas.


The family are constantly monitoring herd health and they recently built a footbath into their cattle handling facilities to improve foot health in the herd.


“We also greatly improved calving ease over the last three years by focusing on bull EBVs and cow condition at calving. We’ve only had one caesarean in the last 12 months due to a cow with a twisted womb.”


Outside the farm, John Jnr is active in Young Farmers and is a member and former chairman of Halkirk YFC.

Young Farmers

“It’s a great organisation and I now have lots of friends all over Scotland.


“The YFC has even taken me overseas and I recently went on an agri-affairs study trip to Argentina, learning how farmers there deal with a consistently unhelpful government and challenging climate. A lot of their issues are familiar.”


Looking to the future, the family are hoping to increase the arable acreage, growing more spring crops by renting more land but this is all dependent on land availability.


“We are confident this could be done with our existing labour and machinery. This would spread our costs and the business would benefit from the economies of scale.”


All three of the family will remain active on the family farm and they regularly discuss their plans to grow the business.


“We often talk about future plans and projects but with the markets for the products so volatile, you can only plan so far ahead.


“I feel families are important to the industry as they make sure their land is managed in a sustainable way. They always ensure it is fit for purpose for the next generation.


“Only the continuation of the family farm can guarantee this and the future of dynamic, functioning rural communities.”


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