Rumbletonrig, Scottish Borders (Beef, sheep & arable)

Messer’s J. Mitchell

The farm comprises of 327 ha, main cropping is grass followed by spring barley and winter wheat. A proportion of the grass area is used for silage production and is clamped for winter feeding. Straw is retained for bedding.  The main enterprise is beef production as well as some sheep; there are currently 300 suckler cows and 250 breeding ewes.

John and Rhona Mitchell volunteered to work with SAC Consulting as a Climate Change Focus Farm from 2014 -2019. Find out more from the meeting notes below about the topics and management changes we investigated during the initiative to help improve farm efficiency and resource use, and in turn, reduce the farm carbon footprint.

Owned and run by John and Rhona Mitchell with help from son Steven, his father John and tractorman Sandy Baxter, Rumbletonrig covers 327 ha in the Scottish Borders.

The main enterprise is beef production; there are currently 300 spring calving suckler cows (closed herd) with all progeny finished or retained as replacements. A flock of 250 Suffolk cross ewes are housed prior to lambing in the first week of March with prime lambs are sold fat in June and July.

Crops include spring barley and winter barley, wheat and rotational grass. A proportion of the grass area is used for silage production, which is clamped and used for winter feeding. In recent years whole crop cereals have also been ensiled in a pit. Straw is retained for bedding with some extra tonnes bought in.

Protecting soils and optimising nutrient use

Rumbletonrig has predominantly sandy loam soils with some poorly draining sites. Drainage installation and maintenance is on-going. John and Rhona are in the process of GPS mapping the pH and major nutrient status of their soils with a third of the farm being mapped each year. Tractors have navigation equipment to improve accuracy of fertiliser and agro-chemical applications; this could also be utilised to support variable rate spreading of fertilisers. Slurry goes to silage ground and arable crops with FYM going predominantly to winter cereal ground.

How might climate change affect Rumbletonrig?

Rainfall at Rumbletonrig averages around 676mm (27 inches) per year. Recent years have seen more extreme weather and climate change predictions suggest heavy downpours or drier periods could become more frequent. Some of the soil type is poorly draining, so more rainfall could make this harder for John and Rhona to deal with. As livestock farmers, emergence of new or increases in established diseases will always be a concern. Running a closed herds helps to minimise these risks in the future.

Scope for renewables

Not only does using power generated from renewables cut the fuel bill, it can also help to reduce the farm carbon footprint. John has recently installed a wood pellet biomass boiler to heat the farmhouse and provide hot water. Other renewables have been investigated, such as solar photovoltaic (PV) panels and a wind turbine.

Focus on cropping

Around 37% of the farm is under arable production. Varieties are already chosen for resistance to disease, reducing inputs and giving some degree of yield protection. Crop rotation is five to six year grass leys with 4 to six years in cereals. The business owns a range of machinery meaning most of the work can be done in-house. John also does some local contracting including tractor work at silage and potato harvest.

Optimising livestock management

Calving starts in April through to June, with home bred heifers calving at 24 months. Cows are housed on slats up to a month before calving and are then are swapped with the young stock into the straw bedded courts. EBV’s are already used when selecting the Saler and Simmental bulls which are also routinely tested for fertility in advance of the mating period.

Profiting from ‘locking up’ carbon

With well managed soils and over 300 ha of grass and crops, carbon is being routinely locked up on the farm. John and Rhona are considering the future management of the mature shelterbelts. Future tree and hedge planting could benefit livestock production, providing shelter, improve farm biodiversity and lock up of carbon, cutting the farm carbon footprint.

Find out more about how to reduce carbon emissions from the beef industry

Further resources

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