Dumfriesshire family future-proofs farm with free-range egg venture, to ensure it is fit for the next generation.
Following their twenty-year long-term Farm Business Tenancy (FBT), in 2014 the Illingworth family were given the opportunity to purchase the 380-acre Howgillside farm, near Lockerbie. The family are renowned breeders with well-established pedigree cattle and pedigree and commercial sheep enterprises. To finance their Scottish Borders mixed farm, the family sold their internationally recognised pedigree Limousin herd and sought the support of the Virgin Money (the rebranded Clydesdale Bank).
Stephen, Helen and their son Thomas run the farm together, and to ensure that it remains fit for future generations they are capitalising on the farm’s renewables opportunities, grasping new technology and working towards the Net Zero Agenda.
As part of establishing an additional income stream for the farm, four years ago the Illingworths established a free-range egg venture. This egg production enterprise was the start of a new direction for the family, and their initial 32,000 chickens were welcomed onto the farm while the country was battling the treacherous Beast from the East. Now, the farm supplies free-range eggs directly to The Happy Egg Company and egg production is integral and a significant part of the farm’s income.
Today they are embarking on a new journey, embracing AgTech to further streamline their business. Within this, they are supported, as they have in the past, by the expertise and the resources of their Bank – the Clydesdale, now branded as Virgin Money. Currently the family are automating their production processes with a larger egg packing machine and a robotic palletizer. This significant investment will minimise labour costs and mean that eggs can be packaged and palletised by one person as opposed to two.
The family also have 20kw of solar panels on their hen sheds, with the hens benefitting from some of the energy collected and the rest going back onto the grid. This was a £20,000 investment with a 6 ½ year payback, but given the way it has been performing since it was installed two years ago, it looks as if this will become a 5-year payback. Already there is a saving of £2,800 on their annual electric bill, in addition to the revenues from export and feed-in tariffs.
Considering their journey, Stephen Illingworth said: “We are very proud of the way our livestock enterprise has evolved, but knew that in order to sustain our business for future generations, we would need to start embracing new technologies. Egg production has become such a key part of our business now – something we would never have imagined – and it is exciting to see this venture thrive.”
The egg business has led the family to seize opportunities that can help minimise, measure and reduce their carbon footprint and maximise renewable potential.
Helen Mitchell, the family’s Relationship Manager at Virgin Money added: “The Illingworths have worked hard to plan for the future and have kept a keen eye on the key AgTech improvements needed to save money, reduce costs – and reduce carbon. It’s been so exciting to have been part of their journey, supporting them in growing and strengthening their business, and to see their farming enterprise continue going from strength to strength.”
Moreover, investment has also been made to combine their cattle slurry and hen manure and for storage to hold 1.5 million gallons, or 12 months output. Their new storage lagoon was installed on the farm in summer 2019, funded by an overdraft from the Bank. This lagoon helps with carbon emissions as slurry can be put on to the fields at optimal times. Importantly the hen manure has also taken their fertiliser usage down 80%, helping to further reduce their carbon footprint.
Commenting on how the Bank has helped their enterprise, Stephen continued: “The Bank has been absolutely brilliant for both our farm and family. They were there with advice and support when we purchased the farm, seven years ago. They keep in touch regularly and are so helpful. Helen has given us really sound advice on ways to ensure our farm stays fit for the next generation.”
When the Illingworths purchased the farm, they had to reduce their pedigree Limousin herd. As such, the next stage of their business is to start rebuilding their herd. Additionally, with planning now in place, another major investment for the family this year is the building of a new house for holiday lets. The Illingworths will continue working towards carbon reduction with this new build, which will be made as eco-friendly as possible and includes air-sourced heating. Once more, they are doing this with the help of the Bank.
The family’s egg business stream has proved a huge success for their farming enterprise so far, in addition to their highly regarded livestock. The Bank has played a key part in helping the family throughout their journey, providing funding as well as advice and guidance.
Moving forward, the Bank are now helping enable them to grasp the opportunity of AgTech to further future-proof the farm for their family.