AN EAGLESFIELD family have come up with a cracking idea to ensure their farm is fit for the next generation,

The Illingworth family have future-proofed their farm, at Howgillside, near Lockerbie, with a free-range egg venture.

Following their 20-year long-term Farm Business Tenancy (FBT), in 2014 the Illingworth family were given the opportunity to purchase the 380-acre Howgillside farm.

The family are renowned breeders with well-established pedigree cattle and pedigree and commercial sheep enterprises.

To finance their mixed farm, the family sold their internationally recognised pedigree Limousin herd and sought the support of their bank manager.

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 set up 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 on to 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.

Currently the family are automating their production processes with a larger egg packing machine and a robotic palletiser. 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 benefiting from some of the energy collected and the rest going back onto the grid. This was a £20,000 investment with a six-and-a-half 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 five-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.

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. This lagoon helps with carbon emissions as slurry can be put on to the fields at optimal times.

The next stage of the family 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.