A NEW £430,000 sheep husbandry training centre has been launched by Newton Rigg College, Penrith.

It features the most modern facilities to equip the next generation of farmers with the expertise and knowledge needed to help safeguard the future of the sheep sector.

The college is part of Askham Bryan College, which has centres across the North of England and specialises in land-based courses, ranging from agriculture to countryside management, and from equine to horticulture.

Catherine Dixon, chief executive, said: “We are proud to use the latest technology in a traditional and local industry and develop a sheep husbandry centre which will support our students at Newton Rigg and across Askham Bryan College.”

The centre is at Low Beckside Farm, Mungrisdale, which is within some of the country’s most difficult uplands.

Matt Bagley, head of agriculture, said: “Our vision was to create a national centre of excellence to help futureproof hill farming.

“Young people have a passion and a desire to learn more about upland farming; we wanted a building where we can transfer knowledge to the industry and so encourage young people back to upland farming. It’s a wonderful vocation, part of the fabric of the UK, and we can’t lose it.”

The centre is multi-functional and versatile with removable animal penning areas that can be transformed from a lambing centre to a vast storage space to a livestock handling area.

The light and airy building is not only good for students but provides improved animal welfare and stock management.

“What we have here is unique,” said Mr Bagley. “We are the only college to own an upland farm and are unique in the standard of the facilities we now have.”

The latest technology featured includes hand-held scanners to record data from each animal – from weight to animal health to ear tag numbers, all of which can be analysed and used to inform the college’s future stocking regime.

The centre, which measures 36m x 25m x 2.95m also has a rainwater collecting facility. It was constructed by Robinson’s Scotland of Lockerbie and has been supported by the Cumbria Local Enterprise Partnership as well as regional organisations such as the Cumbria Farmer Network, the Lake District National Park, the NFU and YFC.

Ryan Brown, Robinsons’ managing director, said: “Our team has thrived on the challenge of creating a building that was in keeping with the area of natural beauty and working to maximise the operational efficiency of the building. We are delighted that the building is now complete and it is great to see the students using the facility to its full potential.”

Newton Rigg was taken over by Askham Bryan in 2011 and has seen a huge increase students studying agriculture – from less than 20 six years ago to 300 today.

The building will be officially opened on Friday, June 13.