Evolving a business

David Cooper has come a long way since starting out as a young sheep farmer in 2004 with the purchase of 190 hectares of dilapidated opencast mining land at Tardoes Farm in East Ayrshire. 

Now farming more than 2,000 hectares of Scottish hillside from their base in Muirkirk, the Cooper family have expanded their sheep farming business over recent years by enlarging and investing in the land they farm, helping to improve stocking rates.​

David has evolved the business, acquiring tranches of land the family previously farmed under tenancy to steadily increase the size of their farm. The result is a low-cost farming operation that has grown from just 350 ewes in 2004 to now managing approximately 5,000 Herdwick and Welsh Mountain sheep. ​

“Land remains an excellent investment, especially for a business like ours that can extract income from land,” explained David. “With NatWest Group’s support over the years, we’ve been able to leverage existing equity in the farm to support our growth. In 2019, we acquired 150 acres, which included a four-bedroom property we currently use for long-term lets. More recently, we purchased a further 550 acres of tenanted land in 2022. Owning the land means we can then invest in it.”​

NatWest has always been there for me

From strength to strength

Central to the farm’s expansion has been cost efficiency. Against a backdrop of rising machinery, feed and fuel costs as well as insurance, David and his wife Cora have been able to craft one of the lowest-input sheep farming systems in the UK.

“Our flock is entirely pasture fed. Most of our grazing lies between 1,000-2,000 feet and is often exposed, which is why we farm the hardy breeds we do. The sheep are free to graze all year round, which means we have no additional feed costs, and the ewes largely fend for themselves including during lambing. Our business model is set up to produce the finest quality product while being as efficient and future proof as possible.”​

Income diversification has been boosted by the development of an agricultural fencing contracting business, which continues to go from strength to strength.


Regenerative farming

The farm has also seen the benefits of investing in regenerative farming. Peat restoration conducted on approximately 1,000 hectares of land in 2019 – at the time, the largest restoration project of its kind in Scotland – has helped repair eroded drainage channels, which allows the hillsides to retain moisture, mitigating downstream flood risk while improving the drought resilience of grazing land. “We’re losing fewer sheep on open ground as a result, locking in more carbon by maintaining moisture levels in the peat, while improving ground coverage for nesting birds,” added David.​

Named Sheep Farmer of the Year in 2023 by Farmers Weekly, David and Cora have built a thriving business and aspire to grow the farm further. “NatWest has always been there for me. I’ve never heard the word ‘No’ when I’ve asked for support,” added David. “Like any good partnership, we’ve always been able to come up with a solution that works for all parties.”

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