I’m always happy to help at on-farm events, so I was pleased to be asked by Quality Meat Scotland to contribute to a Monitor Farm event in August, but even more so when I realised where it was – Shetland! This is somewhere I’d never been but always wanted to visit! I was doubly pleased when I realised the event was being hosted by Bigton Farm, run by the Budge sisters, Kirsty and Aimee, who many of you will know as BBC Countryfile Farming Champions, and current stars of ‘This Farming Life’.
The farm is on the SW of the Shetland mainland and comprises 300 hectares, most which is permanent pasture and intensive grassland. They have 240 Shetland cross Cheviot ewes which are kept on the stunning 80 hectares of St Ninian’s Isle for most of the year, accessed from the farm by a sandy causeway (known as a ‘tombola’, who knew!?). The sisters also have 70 spring calving Saler cross Shorthorn sucklers. Bigton is a spectacular place, but very challenging to farm.
The programme for the day was a short ‘walk and talk’, firstly stopping at the farm’s barley fields (Bigton being one of the few farms on the island suitable for growing barley). We also stopped to inspect a very lush clover-rich sward being grazed by the lambs, who’re doing very well on it. I then did my best to find some mud snails to help demonstrate the liver fluke life-cycle and on-farm risk assessment, but the soil proved too dry and sandy to find any - although the sisters did report fluke in other, more remote parts of the farm. We then all decamped to one of the big sheds for a fluke overview, followed by a discussion around environmental management on the island led by Hilary Burgess, representing the local Shetland Agri-Environment Group. We finished the day with a fab barbeque and lots of home baking from Mrs Budge and family. Needless to say, I didn’t need to eat for the rest of the day!
I was very impressed with Shetland - stunning scenery, lots of history and very friendly locals… highly recommended! I was also very impressed with the island’s animal health and disease status and their strict biosecurity measures. They take great care to test for a number of key diseases, including BVD and Johne’s in cattle, and maedi visna, CLA and enzootic abortion in sheep, upon entry to the island at Lerwick harbour under the auspices of the Shetland Animal Health Scheme (again, Hilary Burgess is very prominent here). Livestock are also treated to help prevent sheep scab and gastrointestinal parasites. As regards to fluke, I would say Shetland is in a relatively envious position, due in part to being so far north and the underlying geology. They don’t have as much fluke as mainland Scotland, they don’t appear to have rumen fluke (yet) and it would appear that triclabendazole is still working! That said, all of these things merit further investigation and I would be keen to maintain contact with the farmers and advisors in Shetland to help keep it that way!