On the farm with Quality Meat Scotland: Fearn Farm, Ross-shire

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 13th April 2015
Its lambing season and this month we spoke to sheep farmer John Scott about producing a quality product, what goes into producing the perfect lamb and keeping these farming techniques in the family. Fearn1 low resJohn Scott farms the family farm in Easter Ross and Sutherland. He has three sites and although he has 4000 breeding ewes that’s not his only produce as the farm is also home to 180 breeding cows, and an arable enterprise producing malting barley and renewable energy which includes wind turbines and a wood chip fired district heating system. Lambing began at Fearn Farm on March 1 and John explained that here lambing is quite intensive and for the farm it’s the prime time of year. He said: “Fearn is the home farm and the lambing takes place indoors, we lamb our stud flock first and then our commercial ewes. This is the time when we really put in the big hours to make sure we get the lambs out, on the ground and up and suckling quickly so they can get out to the field with mother.” He added:  “The ewes we are lambing here are really geared up for prime lamb production, producing lambs from late June right through to Christmas. “We try to deliver a consistent product to the market place and we work with regular buyers who are keen to get our lambs for this reason. They have a carcass weight of 20-21 kilos and they are a nicely fleshed lamb with a consistent eating experience.” One aspect John feels very strongly about is that Fearn is a family farm. His dad still works there aged 67 and his four children are also helping out. He said: “There’s a link there which will continue from generation to generation and passing on the the knowledge and the skills is really important to us.” Lamb is available worldwide but as John points out it’s not Scotch and it’s not from the highlands. “Our lamb is great – it’s tartan!” laughed John.  “But on a serious note we’re producing lamb on a real grass based diet. It’s fresh off the field with very little in the way of intervention.” He added: “In Scotland we have a tremendous farm assurance scheme with full traceability of our products all the way through and at our farm we have a tremendous team of staff. They ensure at all times that our sheep are cared for as best possible.”scott family low res During the lambing season John’s staff triples to cope with the demand and he’s proud to say he invests a lot of time in them so they can produce lamb and beef to a high standard. He said: “We want a consistent growth curve for our lambs and we don’t want them to suffer due to any disease or illness. We make sure they want for nothing and grass and grazing management play a huge part in what we are trying to do here. We want to make sure that these lambs are constantly moving on to new grass so they are really getting the best.” It’s not just John and his team working hard, there are farms all over the country putting in the same hours but John says there’s nothing more satisfying than getting those first lambs out and he always tries to keep a couple of them for himself and his family to enjoy. He said: “My favourite is a lamb chop on the barbeque I think it’s tremendous, or a Sunday roast is a close second. Also the neck for a curry is pretty cool as well - lamb is pretty versatile.” John is a Nuffield Scholar, the prestigious agricultural equivalent of a Roux Scholarship, and he currently sits on the board of QMS and chairs the Scottish Sheep Industry Group (SSIG) which has the task of driving the Scottish sheep industry forward. grass management low resHe explained: “SSIG is looking at innovation, new ideas and ways in which farmers can not only be more profitable but can also deliver a more consistent product. So we want to build on the success we have already and continue to produce something that the market really wants. “We have various different initiatives and one of them is grass utilisation. We look at health issues and estimated breeding values – which I won’t go into as t’s complicated but it’s basically measuring how  an animal grows and comparing it against its contemporary.” “It’s a super group,” added John. “It’s giving the producers a few extra tools for the tool box to really deliver a consistent product.” John is a previous winner of The Murray Trust Future Farmer award and is the 2014 Farmers Weekly Sheep Farmer of the Year which he says they were delighted to win. He said: “It can be a bit of a lonely existence and it can be hard going at times being a sheep farmer. It’s quite tough especially when the environment is not on your side! “I took a lot of pride in winning that not only for the farm but for the Scottish industry as well. There are a lot of sheep producers out there, like me, working bloody hard day in and day out, 365 days a year so to get a little bit of acknowledgement like that is tremendous.” There’s currently a debate about the place of meat on the menu, with chefs such as Alain Ducasse and Brunot Loubet making vegetables the star of the plate rather than protein. But what does this mean for farmers and is this new philosophy likely to have an impact on John’s industry? “I’d be disappointed if meat was taken off menus,” said John. “I think it’s important that we eat a balanced diet – I’m not saying for one minute it should be meat all the time and there are some great vegetarian dishes but you should mix it up a little bit.sutherland low res “Scotch Beef and Lamb are tremendous products and the farmers work very hard to produce it, we can’t grow vegetables in this part of the world as we are too far north.” He added: “Just work with what’s in season – I think that’s the important thing whether its meat, vegetables or fruit. And don’t go too far for it, you can find brilliant produce right on your doorstep.” Watch Michelin star chef Michael Smith cook Scotch Lamb PGI Haggis pasty with Talisker Whisky glazed rib:  

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 13th April 2015

On the farm with Quality Meat Scotland: Fearn Farm, Ross-shire