STARTING FROM scratch is never an easy feat when it comes to farming and new entrants Alastair and Janet Taylor took on that very challenge six years ago by applying for a starter tenancy on the Isle of Mull to establish a hill farming business at Saorphin farm.

The Taylor’s appearance on ‘This Farming Life’ allowed the public an intimate look at the challenges which come with taking on a new tenancy without government support and how in difficult times Alastair and Janet had to branch out into other avenues to keep themselves financially afloat.

Balancing the running of their own farm, managing another, contracting on other farms and Alastair carrying out his deer job, the Taylor’s have been running a very full schedule with little time for a work/life balance. As uncertain times approach, with Brexit impending, amongst other reasons, the Taylors have now made the decision to hand in their tenancy notice and look to find work elsewhere with a focus on enjoying life as opposed to just surviving.

I spoke with Janet and Alastair to find out about their journey in to farming, their experience with the BBC and how it helped contribute to their recent decision to move on to new pastures.

How did you both get in to farming?


I come from a line of farmers with my grandparents running a tenancy in Glenisla with Blackface sheep, and I grew up helping my dad on the farm, where he was a stockman. I went to college in Auchincruive where I studied agricultural science and that’s where I met Janet and we’ve been a team ever since.

I did some consultancy work for the SAC in Skye after college, however it was far too much office work, so 10 years ago we moved to the Isle of Mull and set up a contracting business and got a caravan which we set up on Janet’s parents driveway and lived in. There were a lot of farmers in the area who were glad of the help, so we found a lot of work gathering, handling, farm sitting and much more.


I grew up on Mull on a small holding with goats and pigs and had always worked with animals, mainly horses. Despite growing up surrounded by animals I had never been allowed a dog so when I went to college to study countryside management I bought my first collie dog. I was with Alastair at the time and he was passionate about farming, so it seemed a good breed choice and now all these years later we have eight border collies and one working German Shorthaired Pointer gundog.

When did you take over the tenancy for your current farm and what do you run on it?

We took on the tenancy for Saorphin farm six years ago and it covers around 700 acres of rough boggy ground where we keep 20 Highland cattle and 150 breeding ewes; Shetland Cheviot crosses. We put our Highland cows to a Shorthorn bull and have found the calves to be a much better size, selling most of ours as store cattle but keeping a couple back for meat for the freezer and to sell locally.

When we first took the tenancy on in 2012 there were no livestock on the place and little fencing, we had quite a job getting the place up and running as we had no money and had been living out of the caravan with little in the way of savings.

Initially we bought cast ewes and olds cows to save on costs, which meant we were fine for the first year, but they got past their sell by date quickly which meant that our homebred replacements were only replacing the old animals and not increasing our numbers. Fortunately we have now reached a better age range so the numbers are steadily increasing.

The only way we survived in the beginning was because of the kindness of local farmers. A friend we contracted for, Willie MacPhail, Ensay, Mull, sold us cast ewes at a greatly decreased price and Bert Leitch, Lagganulva, sold us Highland cattle and didn’t ask for money for a whole year which allowed us time to wait for our single farm payment to arrive. If it wasn’t for their support initially we would never have made it through the first year.

As well as running your own farm you are involved in many other avenues of work, can you talk me through what else you both do?


We both manage nearby farm Ardalanish which is 20 minutes away, and we take charge of the livestock including all paperwork and grant applications etc. We also continue to do our contracting work which we began here 10 years ago and help on various farms in between.

As you saw in This Farming Life, I have my deer stalking certificate level one which allowed me to take on the deer management jobs on the three estates, this helps to control deer numbers and to get extra money and it’s another avenue to keep us busy amongst everything else.

This year has been a real strain on the livestock as it has been wet everywhere since July and the livestock are hungry, grass has been washed away and farmers haven’t been able to cut their silage. With our contracting work the weather is dependant for gathers and this has caused us problems as we find that three or four farms will want us to work on the same dry day, so between our farm and the other five we work on, a wet day can push all of them backwards on their timescale.

Your dogs are clearly a real passion of yours, do you have any plans to capitalise on your dog handling skills in the future?


I love farming, but my passion is my dogs.

We now have nine dogs on the farm all ranging between three and 12-years-old, we have done very well to go three years without having a new dog.

I am hoping to expand in to dog behaviour work, however there is still lots to learn and getting away right now from the farm is difficult and we need to get more money under our belts.

I am still interested in training sheep dogs and love the challenge of seeing a dog putting its natural talent to use, but I enjoy working with problem dogs and helping them and their owners.

We had one litter of our own before, but I feel it is important to go to rescue centres and rehome collies instead, with the added challenge of helping them behaviourally and seeing if they have a natural talent to work sheep and using that to help their rehabilitation. This is my plan for the next dog I get we will see how long I can hold off getting another one.

The dogs have their own Facebook page torr a clachan collies and I’ve kept going with blogging on YouTube following on from the BBC’s filming under the channel name “theshepherdess”. I already had some videos up but intend to be more regular and recently this has included a short video of Owain in his second year with the ewes. It is both for us to enjoy and for anyone else who wants to follow up on what we are doing.

Can both of you talk me through your experience filming with the BBC?


I must admit I was a little bullied into it at first

A few people had mentioned to us about applying for the programme and my step mum kept pushing us towards it so eventually we sent a rather flippant email to the BBC and were shocked when they got back in touch straight away and came to meet us the next week.

I did find the filming process quite daunting at first as you are always worrying about what you were doing or how people would perceive what we were doing.

We did feel they focused a lot on our own farm and my deer job which is only a small amount of our income. We told them from the start that they would miss our busiest time of year as they wanted to film between October and June; they didn’t film us gathering at all and it is a huge part of what we do, sometimes going out for eight hours at a time.


People have been incredibly sweet since the series has aired which has been really nice for us both.

It has been an amazing experience to have been a part of and after the success of the first series we knew what a positive impact it made.

You spend a lot of time with the filming crew over the course of a year and we have made some really good friends from it. I still keep in contact with our filming director Lindsay.

The series has also helped us address some of the issues we had been keeping at the back of our minds about leaving the farm and brought it to the forefront of our thoughts. When you watch something back you see your life from a new perspective and this definitely accelerated the process. We have now handed in our notice to our landlord and will look to find work elsewhere.

This is a big decision for you both to decide to leave your tenancy. Can you talk me through some of the reasons behind this and what plans you have for the future?

Our plan is to leave the farm and hopefully I’ll get a working farm manager’s job and then Janet can focus on doing some training courses to allow her to develop with her dog business.

Currently the hectic lifestyle we lead, we’re doing all of these jobs to survive and have nothing outside of it. We can’t see family and friends and want to spend more time with our nieces and nephews. We made the decision that life is passing us by while we race around like idiots, we need to focus on one thing so decided a farm manager’s job would be best thing.

We're making such little money on the farm and are fully consumed by the work we do. We don’t care where we end up if it is the right job and are both happy with the decision. We will also have a bit of a buffer if we sell our livestock allowing us to look for work in the meantime.

Throughout the programme , the BBC focus was on your money struggles with the tenancy. Has a lack of support from the government also contributed to your decision to leave the farm?

One thing’s for sure that with Brexit coming and no clear indication of where we will be at with subsidies, it is much safer to look for a farm manager’s job where I can be guaranteed a wage coming in, in case Brexit ruins the market.

As new entrants coming on to the farm initially we received no subsidies from the government as all of the schemes in place were too far out of our reach. We would have had to wait 18 months to receive any support and in the meantime sit on our hands for all that time not making any money and not being allowed to develop the place.

There is little incentive with the difficult CAP system to enter new farm tenancies these days and it is a real worry with the current environment that we won’t be attracting new farmers in to the industry. As a new entrant farmer starting out, you need to be able to take a small farm and start from nothing and the government doesn’t want to help small farms.

To make extra money we have to do the hogg scheme to bring our land value up. However, we have to keep so many breeding sheep alive for a retention period and we have to jump through all these hoops to have so many animals to meet targets. It is a poor system and one which doesn’t work for farmers like ourselves when better ground just receives the money.

Everything has naturally pushed us in the direction of leaving the farm and now we can look forward to having more time on our hands to enjoy our life, knowing we will have the stability of a guaranteed income which will take care of our money troubles.