A day in the life of an Arran Farmer

Kenneth Bone of Glenkiln farm in Lamlash was last months featured farmer in November’s Eco Savvy Food Update and in the following he discusses the ways in which the farm has diversified over the years. You can find produce from the farm at the Drift Inn in Lamlash and keep an eye out for more information on the opening of their new indoor riding arena! Featured image shows sheep on the farm, credit Arran’s Food Journey.

Livestock is our primary production at Glenkiln where we run a herd of 90 Aberdeen Angus cows with calves at foot and a flock of 600 Blackface and Cheviot ewes. We have another herd of 80 Aberdeen Angus running on two farms at the Southend. We grow our own cereals which allows us to be self-sufficient in feeding and provides straw for bedding.

My Father, in his younger days was helped by Donald McKelvie who was well known for breeding the “Arran” prefix varieties, grew many acres of potatoes on Glenkiln and supplied many of the local shops like Coopers, Co-op and independent grocers as well as the schools and hospital. A mechanical potato lifting harvester was purchased to increase production without relying on teams of potato gatherers. However, when centralised buying from the mainland was introduced by these outlets, this triggered the demise of locally grown food and potato production ceased on the farm. It is therefore gratifying to see the efforts of the Pioneer Project getting underway supplying local produce again throughout their various site on Arran. I was more than happy as Chair of the Arran Trust to agree the sum of £7,000 recommended by the Trustees to support the Pioneer Project in the Northend.

Once we ceased milk production at Glenkiln, this gave us the time and opportunity to diversify the business. We were fortunate to have old farm buildings which we able to convert in to housing for long term residential letting. We now have many local families living in them since they were converted. This provided the resources to allow us to develop a hydro-electric scheme utilising the Benlister Burn which runs through the farm. The scheme produces 500kW/hr providing power for around 300 houses over the year.

The Hydro project on the Benlister burn

Prior to our hydro project, we looked at installing six 1.5MW wind turbines on our hill between Glenkiln and Glenscorrodale in 1999. At that time there were only 4 or 5 windfarms in Scotland. We held three open days for the Community to voice their opinions and for us to inform people on what our plans were. We were pleasantly surprised by the amount of support we received for the project, as in these days, wind turbines were a rarity. Unfortunately, in the same year, all of the Arran Moors were designated as a European Special Protection Area for Hen Harriers by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH). We tried to reason with SNH for over five years but ultimately had to succumb to their power. The six turbines would have made Arran self sufficient in green power at that time.

To increase our returns from our livestock production and add value to the product, we send some of our beef and lamb direct to the abattoir. From there it is sold through a restaurant in Lamlash, the Drift Inn, which I run with a partner. The restaurant is managed and staffed by a team of 20 with more seasonal staff taken on in the summer. We had hoped to be open seven days a week but due to staff shortages we have to close for two days for the time being.

We have also been providing livery for horses for a few years by offering grazing for horses and ponies with stabling if required. We noticed that there was an increasing demand for equine facilities on Arran with a corresponding increase in the number of horses and ponies. We therefore decided to build an indoor riding arena to facilitate riding throughout the year particularly in the inclement winter months. The arena is due to open soon for riding lessons and events as well as other sports and training uses – even weddings if required!

First published in the November Eco Savvy Food update. Thank you Eco Savvy for sharing this fascinating piece about rural farming life with the Voice!