Incheoch, near Alyth, run by husband and wife team Neil and Debbie McGowan in partnership with Neil’s mother Judy, father Finlay and sister Clare, was revealed as the recipient of the award during a presentation in the main ring at AgriScot.
Incheoch is a 485-hectare upland farm at the foot of Glenisla, running 1,100 Lleyn ewes on a low-cost sheep system in terms of capital and labour, along with a suckler herd. The farm uses EID technology and EBVs to help produce ‘functional, efficient and robust breeding stock’.
The McGowans are dedicated to improving the genetics of their flock and enhancing the commercially relevant traits, particularly maternal characteristics. The foundation of the sheep business is prime lamb production, however they have been selling grass-fed, performance recorded Lleyn and Texel rams at an on-farm sale for the last 11 years.
Prime lambs are sold to Woodheads but the McGowans also work with a local abattoir and butcher and sell 30-40 of their lambs direct to the public each year in bespoke retail packs.
The aim of the AgriScot Scottish Sheep Farm of the Year Award is to showcase excellence in sheep production in Scotland and to raise the profile of the dedication of the Scottish sheep farmers who produce Scotch Lamb PGI.
Neil McGowan from Incheoch Farm was delighted by the news. He said: “Being announced as the Agriscot Scottish Sheep Farmer of the Year is great recognition to the effort that everyone involved at Incheoch puts into what all Scottish Sheep farmers try to do - produce a great product, sensitive to welfare and the environment, in a business that offers a way of life attractive to the next generation.”
As part of their prize, the McGowans received a £500 cheque as well as a £250 voucher to celebrate their success at a Scotch Beef Club restaurant. The members of the club, run by QMS, are committed to serving top quality Scotch Beef PGI.
Fergus Ewing, Cabinet Secretary for Rural Minister for Rural Economy, extended his congratulations to the McGowans.
He said: “I would like to offer my warmest congratulations to the McGowans on Incheoch being named 2018 Scottish Sheep farm of the year. They are excellent ambassadors for our Scottish sheep sector and have shown how technology can help to produce an efficient and robust breeding stock, while enhancing it commercially. I wish them every success moving forward.”
He also congratulated finalist farm Bowhill Farming Ltd, in Selkirk, managed by Sion Williams and his team for their commitment to producing Scotch Lamb.
Charley Walker from Barnside Farm, one of the assessors this year and recipient of the 2017 award, admitted that it was incredibly hard to decide who should receive the award this year as both businesses excelled at what they did.
He said: “Incheoch and Bowhill are very different farms, but both share outstanding technical performance and a great passion and understanding of the sheep industry. Both have made and continue to make great strides in genetic improvement and have an excellent understanding of their market.”
Fellow assessor and AgriScot board member Hamish Dykes commented: “Although Sion and his team should be very rightly proud of what they have achieved, we were incredibly impressed by the McGowans foresight and courage to go down their chosen path at such an early stage. Long before any of us knew what a Lleyn actually was, Neil and Debbie already had a flock of them and were preparing to start their on-farm ram sale.”
During the farm visits the judges looked for evidence of a high standard of technical and financial performance, uptake of new ideas to improve efficiency/profitability, a high level of health and welfare and a keen eye on the market for the end product. The judges were also looking to gauge the passion and enthusiasm of the farmer, and family and staff where relevant, to efficiently produce high quality animals.
“It was a pleasure to visit the finalist farms, both of which demonstrated incredibly high-quality sheep production systems managed with real pride and dedication,” said Heather McCalman, Knowledge Transfer Specialist at QMS and fellow assessor.
Kenneth Mackay, partner in the Land and Rural Business team at Thorntons Solicitors, said: “We are delighted to sponsor the AgriScot Scottish Sheep farm of the Year award; it is a wonderful way to celebrate the fantastic sheep industry we have in Scotland. Many congratulations to the McGowans on their success this year.”
All farms producing lambs destined to be used for meat sold under the Scotch Lamb label were eligible to apply and accordingly they were also required to be members of QMS’s quality assurance scheme.