This Farming Life took us on a journey through some of the most spectacular landscapes in the Scottish countryside and nestled in the rolling hills of Appin, we were treated to some of the most beautiful scenes from hill farmers, Sandra and David Colthart.

David is Appin born and bred and met Canadian born Sandra whilst she was visiting her parents, local crofters, in her 20s and ever since have jointly built up their hill farm together.

The couple look after a large flock of Blackface sheep and a herd of commercial beef cattle, Highland ponies and 14 Border collies as well as their favourite pet, Einy the parrot.

With many strings to her bow, Sandra is also successful sheep dog breeder having previously sold puppies all over the world, as well as holding training weeks where people have travelled from far and wide to learn from her experience.

Their appearance on This Farming Life was one of the more emotional journeys on this year’s series, where they faced many unsettling challenges over the course of the year, giving an honest insight in to the hardships which farmers face but often aren’t relayed to the public.

Their hill farm overlooks the famous Castle Stalker, over to Lismore and Morvern beyond. Surely an idyllic place to work. We talked to them to see if the views make up for the hardship of farming in a challenging environment and their overall experience with the BBC film crew ...

Can you both talk me through your background in farming and how you came to live in Appin?


Farming is very much in the family. My grandfather came here after serving in the first world War to farm in Appin from his family farm at Connel near Oban and as the oldest son of three brothers in my family, I was very young when I decided that my path would also be in farming.

I went to Elmwood Agricultural College to study on the hill shepherd block release course for three years, returning to work at home in between blocks with dad on the hill farm. In November 1989, at the age of 22, the neighbouring farm came up for rent and I was very grateful to the family that owned it to take the opportunity to farm in my own right whilst still helping out my dad at home.

We got extremely lucky and managed to secure a 20-year limited partner tenancy which allowed me to get on my feet for a couple of years before I purchased my first livestock. A lot of people go to college and have all these ideas but can’t put them in to action, so this was a great opportunity to try things out.

Our farm now runs to over 3450 acres, 1800 of which are tenanted with a further 20 years extension to 2029, plus 1250 acres of croft land we took over from our neighbour Margaret Anderson when she retired 12 years ago and 400 acres croft land at Connel, near Oban. We don’t have any employees on the farm, just help from local farmers Kenny Jackson and Jamie Malcolm on Gathers and bigger cattle handling days. Dad still tries to help out when he can but my brother Alasdair and nephew Robert are always close by if we have a calving emergency.


I was originally born and raised in Canada but when returning for a two year spell to our family croft is where I discovered my love for animals from a young age. When I was little we had a few cows on the croft and I used to wait till they were sleeping and climb on their backs and ride them around.

I come from a long line of crofters on my dad’s side and I still have family crofting in Tiree. My parents re-emigrated when I was still at primary school in Port Appin to the city of Regina in Canada , that’s where I developed my accent

I used to work on a ranch in Canada, taking people out trekking and testing out new horses before they could be ridden by the public. The skills I learnt on the Ranch enabled me to break in my own Highland ponies here in Appin.

I originally applied to Regina police department but decided after a lot of consideration that career in the Police wasn't going to be for me.

Having decided not to join the force, I decided to visit my parents who at the time were on holiday in Scotland staying with my grandmother and that’s when I met David and the rest is history.

I Never thought in a million years I would end up living here, but I love Appin, it is a beautiful place, yes it rains a lot, especially this year, but I have all my dogs and the ponies to look after which keeps us busy.

What livestock do you run on the farm?


We currently have a flock of 600 Blackface ewes in addition to 70 Texel crosses. With very little low ground on the farm, the sheep are ideally suited to the higher ground.

In the beginning we only kept sheep but after a few years we started to build up our herd of cows with Sandra buying the first Simmental cross heifers. We now look after 45 sucklers, mostly Simmental crosses with around a dozen potential replacement heifers reared each year.

We used to mostly winter the cattle outside on an old railway but when it was turned into a cycle track, we lost that. In 2010, we received a SRDP grant to build a new slatted cattle shed with slurry stored beneath in a 10-feet deep tank.

The shed's layout was designed by myself and incorporates calving and bull pens with fodder storage, which was lacking on the farm and it allowed us to keep cattle inside – a huge benefit with the wet climate here.

All the cattle calve in late spring in the shed going out to the hill around the third week in May. Going onto the early summer grass has meant that they usually bull quickly, which helps keeps the calving tight, being re-housed when the weather turns in the autumn.

We wean the calves at housing and they are kept in the shed until being sold on for fattening at the spring sale at Dalmally.

Predation proved to be a real issue facing your farm during the series, how has this affected your sheep flock over the years?


Sea eagle predation has had a major impact on our Blackface flock over the last 12 years. It has meant it has been very difficult for us to sustain the hefted hill flock as we’re not producing enough replacement ewe lambs.

Over the last couple of years we've had to buy-in extra ewe lambs and gimmers to restore numbers to where they were, with varying degrees of success.

I am the chairman of the Argyll and Lochaber Sea Eagle stakeholder group, so play an active role in addressing the serious issue of their predation in the area. No farmer or crofter should go through this level of predation but because they are protected by law, it makes things very difficult.

You have always been passionate about animals which came across on the programme, talk me through the animals you look after on the farm and especially the success you have had with your Border collies?


I’m kept very busy with my 14 Border collies but also look after Highland ponies and not to forget Einy the parrot, who was a birthday present from David to keep me company when he was away.

When David and I used to go out on gathers back in the day, I was the only person not to have a dog and felt I was running around the hills like a complete idiot responding to his whistle.

In the end it all seemed a bit crazy, so I decided to get a collie, despite the locals telling me I wouldn’t be able to train it. As I’m not one to be told what I can’t do, I was very determined and got my first pup Tess from a hill farmer and trialist from Loch Eil and started reading books on how to train sheep dogs and after some success at local nursery trials, got severely bitten by the bug.

I dived head first in to competing in trials with my dogs and my third collie went on to have great success winning trials and from there people used to ask me to help them with their dogs as I had developed a knack for training.

I also began breeding my own puppies but kept a very strict breeding programme. I only want good workers with natural sheep dog instincts and they had to have a good temperament.

More and more people began to approach me about my litters and for training advice, so I decided I would run sheep dog training holidays and people came from all over the world to stay on the farm and learn how to work my dogs and sometimes their own.

We've had visitors from Holland, Italy, Sweden, Canada and the US, plus many more. There were lovely stories where folk would return home and do extremely well with their dogs in their own countries.

Keeping dogs and looking after guests was a 24-hour job and around nine years I decided that my own dogs weren’t getting enough time spent on them, so I slowed down with the training and breeding. However, I continue to get enquiries for puppies – every day I receive e-mails.

One of my biggest success stories was a dog I acquired called Glen that I saved from a farmer who was going to put him down for killing a sheep. I believed I could transform the dog and I did and he turned out to be an amazing sheep dog who would do anything to please me. Stories like that are very unusual.

How did you find your experience filming with the BBC and what impact has it had on you both?

All the teams that were here were great to work with and after a bit of guidance from us, knew when were the best times to film and asked the questions that needed to be answered.

They learnt quickly when to keep out of harm’s way but also understood that to film what really happens on a farm, they needed to be close at hand.

Camera director and sound recordist, Steven Todd and Kate Thomson, respectively, made the whole process a great deal less daunting than we imagined. We had a good few laughs on and off camera, especially with Einy the parrot which sometimes helped forget there was a camera on when there was serious problem or issue to deal with.

The only disappointment for us was they didn’t show us selling calves at Dalmally as it is a big day in the calendar for us as we have been aiming towards it all year.

Watching the show reminded us what a beautiful area we live and work in, which you can forget sometimes when things aren't going right.

The programme has really helped public perception of real life on a farm, warts and all, and what goes on behind the scenes to produce high quality food in Scotland. Going by the kind letters and messages from all over the UK we have received since the show aired, reinforced that point to us.

We have had a lot of farmers come up to us and say how much they have enjoyed the series and said we were very brave opening the farm up to cameras. We felt very lucky to think we can look back in years to come and have these memories on record.

The filming captured many emotional moments on your farm, how did you find coping with cameras during difficult situations?

The BBC put together the final edit very well and in a sensitive way, given some of the traumatic scenes shown to the public.

What happened on our farm happens everywhere, but nobody sees those bits and, in a way, it gave an honest portrayal of life on the farm over the course of a year.

Between cases of milk fever, our bull dying on Christmas day and our neighbour's cow getting stuck in the mud, you realise you can’t foresee these things and they are out of your control. If you let them get to you, you wouldn’t be able live this lifestyle – we just have to learn to carry on.

How do you see your future on the farm and do you have any set plans moving forward?


With Brexit and the uncertainty of future support for the hills, we are going to try and improve the performance of our cattle operation where we can. With the sheep, we'll try and restore numbers back to the level prior to the arrival of the sea eagles.


Keep farming, I couldn’t imagine doing anything else ...