John Howie

2020 Sheep Innovator of the Year winner

Messrs John Howie
Girtridge Farm, Ayrshire

Since becoming one of Quality Meat Scotland’s monitor farms, John’s business has employed a rotational grazing system on his 170-hectare (420-acre) farm, while upping sheep numbers from 140 to 500 ewes and dispersing the suckler herd to focus on the beef finishing enterprise.

A focus in management has seen the sheep flock shift towards breeds more suited to a grass-based system. Aberfield gimmers, although but John plans to produce his own replacements in the future.

The sheep grazing platform is 12 hectares (30-acres) which is split into six, 2ha (five-acre) paddocks with sheep on two-day shifts during the grazing system from June to October.

An investment in infrastructure has facilitated the introduction of rotational grazing, which has allowed an increase in stocking rate from 1.04 livestock units (LU) per hectare (0.42LU/acre) to 1.72LU/ha (0.69LU/acre) with the new system.

Lambs are finished off grass and are sold deadweight through ScotBeef, with an average carcase weight of 20kg, mostly achieving a carcase grade of R3L. Most lambs are hitting the specifications to supply Marks & Spencer.

Grassland investment

Another big change seen to his enterprise, which he runs in partnership with his mother Margaret and sister Mary, is the move from indoor to outdoor lambing, which has helped ease the burden of enzootic abortion and has had a positive impact on lamb mortality.

Grass growth is monitored and the aim is for sheep to enter paddocks with 10cm of growth, shifting every two days to allow for a 15-day rest period.

For John, the next step is to invest in some farm software to collate grass growth information and help manage the rotational grazing.

On winning, John said:

“I am surprised, shocked and humbled to have won this year. Sheep innovation is so important in the sector particularly now when we cannot foresee what Brexit will bring. But we need to maximise what we have got and push the boundaries. “I am proud to be part of the British farming because of the community. There are great ideas out there and great people and I am proud to produce Scottish lamb and Scottish beef that I produce to the best of my ability as sustainably as I can. We are all in it together and we all want to succeed.”

What the judges said:

What impressed the judges about John was the fact he took a moment in his life – where he was at a crossroads on his farming journey and turned it into a huge positive – changing his whole business for the greater good. He embraced the opportunity and created positive steps towards building a future for himself, an approach which all the judges thought needed to be encouraged in the industry.