2015-04-07  facebook twitter rss

Kircubbin Farmer Runs Flying Herd in Scotland

Rachel Martin reports from a Volac NI discussion group visit to the Scottish farm of the Mitchell family from Co Down, who formerly farmed at Annahilt and on the Ards Peninsula.

Kircubbin born Gary Mitchell made the move to the Scottish lowlands with his mother Miriam, father Leslie and sister Liz in 1980, a time when “an Ulster acre was worth three acres in Scotland so moving from 72 acres to over 200 made sound business sense.”  

Gary Mitchell is chairman of NFU Scotland milk committee and has been heavily involved with the Royal Highland Educational Trust (RHET), which encourages farm based education

Gary Mitchell is chairman of NFU Scotland milk committee and has been heavily involved with the Royal Highland Educational Trust (RHET), which encourages farm based education

Gary’s father ran an arable operation with some beef on their new farm, but unfortunately passed away just eight years after the family moved across the water. Along with his mother Gary then expanded the farm by buying patches of ground “here and there.” In the years that followed he experimented with a mixture of multi-sucklers, arable and beef farming.

Having worked on a neighbouring dairy unit from the age of 15 Gary had an ambition to move into milk production, but because of quotas it was never a simple option.

Shortly after his mother’s passing in 2006 Gary got the opportunity to go on a Rural Leadership Course and came to the decision it was “now or never” to move into dairy farming.

By July that year he had purchased 180 bulling heifers and by September was milking 129 bought in cows at rented premises while converting the buildings on the home farm at West Galdenoch by Stoneykirk, Stranraer.

Gary’s farm manager, Fergus Crowch, told the visiting Ulster farmers that by March the next year Gary was milking 240 cows four miles away and rearing 140 calves.

Also from Northern Ireland, Limavady lad Fergus started working for Gary five years ago, but took two and a half years out to work in New Zealand. The two have both brought their own ideas into the business to make it run as smoothly as possible.


One way that Gary gets around the lack of space is by sending calves to a heifer rearer from six months to 23 months.

Cows in batches of 150 are kept in their pen as much as possible to maximise the amount of energy directed towards milk production. Due to the rapid expansion of cow numbers the herd has a high turnover rate and could be classed as a “flying herd”. Farm manager Fergus noting that one of the down sides of buying from different herds is that it mixes up his calving programme.

“Buying in cows to get numbers up and bringing them into a totally different system can mean up to 40% of them will not be still here a year later.”

Cows are fed a total mixed ration of 60% concentrate and 40% forage with Megalac, the rumen-protected fat from Volac, which puts more milk in the bulk tank, improves fertility, body condition and general herd health.


“Megalac gets more energy into the cows and helps keep yields up” explained Fergus. “I try to keep costs down, but Megalac does exactly what it is supposed to and gives us a real return. Currently our milk is at 3.3% protein and 3.91% butter fat.”

Having reached 450 cows Gary Mitchell, in the drive to keep production costs down, expanded to the current 740 cow herd and the visiting NI farmers were told that numbers will rise to 900.

As the highly regarded NFU Scotland milk committee chairman Gary Mitchell is adamant that UK wide dairy farmers must constantly strive to ‘up their game’ to compete at a global level in this post quote era.


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