The official opening of a new £430,000 centre of excellence to safeguard the future of hill farming in Cumbria will take place this summer.

In the meantime, the sheep husbandry centre at Newton Rigg College’s Low Beckside Farm in Mungrisdale is open for business.

It is currently the focus for the college’s lambing operations which begin in early April.

Low Beckside Farm is home to two flocks: a Swaledale flock of around 350 ewes, which are hefted to the fell at Mungrisdale, and a draft flock – older ewes from the fell flock – which are kept on land at Low Beckside and Redmire.

The college’s head of agriculture Matt Bagley said the centre was filled with sheep from these two flocks.

“We are starting to prepare the sheep for the lambing season, which starts April and finishes some time in early May,” he said.

The college’s other sheep flock – at Sewborwen’s Farm at Newton Rigg – is currently in the throes of lambing.

The training centre will be a national showcase for the best hill farming practices, provide the industry’s future workforce and leaders with key hill farming skills, and provide a focal point as a demonstration farm.

The new unit will showcase the latest electronic identification technology in use with the college’s hill and draft flocks at the farm, blending traditional management techniques with the latest assistive technology.

Work on the project began in May last year, and has involved demolishing existing farm buildings and constructing the steel portal frame centre with Yorkshire boarding and a fibre cement roof.

Additional work has seen new areas of hardstanding to aid sheep handling and improvements to the existing silage clamp.

When completed, the centre will be used throughout the year, particularly for practical teaching. It will be the focus for the college’s lambing operations and a base for sheep shearing and general sheep husbandry.

Alongside the specialist courses for students, the centre will host farm events and demonstration activities within uplands agriculture and sheep management to show best practice and encourage professional development.

“The students are actively using this centre on a daily basis,” said Mr Bagley.

“The handling system has yet to be completed and work on this will be finished post-lambing. Then the centre will be officially opened on June 13.”

The project has been supported by the Cumbria LEP, through the Skills Funding Agency.

Cumbrian farmers have had input as members of the college’s technical advisory group.

Support has also been given by the Cumbria Farmer Network, Lake District National Park, National Farmers’ Union, Country, Land and Business Association and Cumbria Young Farmers Club.