AFTER PICKING up the BAFTA for last year’s ‘This Farming Life’, Mel and Martin Irvine returned once again to our screens along with new addition, baby Erin, for the second series of the BBC two programme.

Mel and Martin, along with parents, Stephen and Denise, and younger brother, Darren, who helps out when he can alongside his building business, run the family farm, which looks after a pedigree Limousin herd and a flock of Mules at Drummuir, near Keith, Moray.

The couple, who were married during the first series, both grew up working on their family farms and got bitten by the agriculture bug from a young age.

Now that baby Erin is nearing two years old and a little baby brother or sister is due in February, the family have chosen to focus more on spending quality time with the whole ‘clan’ and have adapted their farming operation accordingly.

Always looking for ways to progress the farm and respond to the ever-changing farming environment, they have invested in new ideas to improve their livestock. They also made the decision last April to hand in their notice on their contract farm, taking the focus back to the home farm and the soon to expand Irvine family.

I spoke with Martin and Mel about their love for farming and how they found filming not one, but two series of This Farming Life.

Martin, talk me through your journey in farming?


I got the love for farming because I was born into it. Myself and my two younger brothers would always be outside and if there was tractor work going on we would be in the MF 3070 cab while dad did his ploughing, sowing and mowing. Most of the time, we would just fall asleep.

We all drove the quad before we could reach its pedals and learned to drive the loader – an old MF 50B – before we were nine. I can remember being left ploughing at the age of 10.

My brothers and I were all rough and tumble around the farm, but it never did us any harm – you learn from a young age the dangers and what not to do.

I was always mucking in and about the farm. We all had our jobs once home from school, helping dad feed the cows bed the courts.

When I was in fifth year at school, I had great intentions of going to Craibstone to study agriculture but decided it was a waste of my time and spent the money instead on building up my own livestock to keep on the family farm.

We had an established Limousin herd at home, but I fancied something different and purchased two Charolais heifers from my uncle Johnny and cousin, Raymond, in Tomintoul, when I was 17.

I worked my herd up to 12 breeding females, but now I’m back down to two females. As successful as I have been with them, I have found they haven’t been the best breed to work with.

We phased out our breeding sheep 10 years ago. They were more mum’s thing and we had 30 Bluefaced Leicesters, but we wanted to make room to build up our cattle herd. As time moved on, we pushed things forward with the herd and invested in better stock bulls and with me here full time, increased man power allowed us more time to spend on developing the herd.

When I was 19, I joined Keith YFC which was tiny at the time, only about 15 of us, but there were always events to go to and I got involved in stock judging and cattle dressing. It was good banter and a great social group to be part of.

I first met Mel at the Royal Highland Show in 2008 and she told me I would do much better if I bred Aberdeen-Angus instead of Limousin, so we didn’t hit it off straight away. Then, 12 months later, we decided we liked each other and first got together in 2009 at a Young Farmers disco in Keith.

I asked her to marry me in November, 2013 and we got married in 2015, which was shown on the BBC series.

Mel, talk me through your background in farming and what it’s been like having Erin join your farming family?


I was brought up on a dairy farm until I was seven and then moved to a mixed beef and crop farm just outside Elgin, where my dad was a stockman.

From a young age, I used to help with the calves at the dairy farm and when we moved to the mixed unit, I helped with the sheep.

I always knew I wanted to do something within agriculture and after school went to Craibstone and studied agriculture for three years. I absolutely loved my experience at Craibstone and have made many lifelong friends from all over Scotland.

I then went on to work for the SAC, in Elgin, for two years, but found it was too much office based and I joined the charity, RSABI, in 2013. When I fell pregnant with Erin in 2015, I left RSABI and started working part time with ScotEID, specialising in livestock traceability, where I continue to work twice a week, as well as helping on the family farm.

Erin is now 19 months old and she very much fits in to our working life here on the farm. We’re both laid back parents and decided early on she would fit round our routines, so we never arranged nap times. Instead, she would just sleep in the buggy while we sorted the cows or often we’d have her sleeping in the calving pen.

It does take up time having a little one to feed and dress in the morning and I’m not out as much as I’d like, but we get there.

What do you run on the farm and what changes have you made to your farming operation?


Currently on the farm we look after 75 pure Limousin breeding females and 350 mule ewes. Braehead Farm extends to 240 acres altogether – 180 is arable and we cut our own silage.

The farm is very much a family effort, with mum and dad, as well as my young brother, Darren, all mixing in to get work done.

When Mel moved in to the farm, she introduced 25 Mule lambs, a big change after not having had sheep on the farm for eight years. We put them to a Texel tup and sold them with lambs at foot the following year and made a good profit.

We decided to bring in extra ewes the following year and repeat the process and have now increased the flock up to 350 ewes in the space of four years. We have found them to be a real asset to the business, bringing in extra money at the sales in May/June and they clean the ground up well for the cattle. We are increasing our flock each year to test how well the farm can run at maximum.

With the cattle, we are trying to bring our Limousin females down to 55-60 and are investing in more embryo work. Instead of keeping 10 females a year, we are only keeping the best three or four as we want to have a good tight nucleus herd.

We bought in 10 Simmental cross females and are calving our first batch just now. We calve in two blocks, November/ December and April/May, and we currently have four embryo calves on the ground with five due between now and spring.

We plan to do more implanting in January and potentially run 10-20 recipients. By tightening the herd this has allowed us to sell good surplus females for the first time and with the market very good just now for the Limousins, it means we can take in more money ... hopefully.

We handed in our notice for the estate sheep contract where we managed 700 sheep, finishing up at the end of June. Everything began to change with Erin getting a little older, we weren’t spending enough time with her and we were always busting a gut to get all the work done on both farms.

With mum and dad getting older, it wasn’t fair to expect them to continue the physical labour and now we can focus on the home farm and better manage our time.

Now you have both starred in two series of This Farming Life, can you talk me through your experience filming and the impact from the programme?


When the BBC selected us for the first series we wanted to show people what farming was all about and felt there was no point in hiding anything.

It was scary when the series aired as we were seeing it for the first time at the same time as the public. Credit where credit is due, the BBC edit was fantastic, and we were happy with their portrayal of the farm. The camera teams were brilliant to work with and we made lifelong friends out of the series.

They knew when to intervene and when not to. In series one, there was one occasion where the director filmed the semen collection of our bull and got right up on to the hay bale so she could get the best shots.

The selling point for the BBC to pick us was that we had our wedding in May, 2015, and they asked if they could film with us. In the end, we thought ‘why not’ as it would mean a free videographer and in the end, they were so discreet and courteous on the day. We have loads of free footage as a memory of the day and our favourite has to be the raw footage of the blackening.

We received a lot of praise for showing some of the harsh realities of farming, such as our calf dying at Christmas; having a poor bull sale; and the hard calving we endured. Folk want to see the realities and hardships we face, not to believe that everything is all rosy with everyone making loads of money, because that isn’t true.

After the first series, I couldn’t get around our local Tesco without being stopped by everyone. I never realised what a success it would be as we’re just normal people, it’s crazy. The penultimate episode with our wedding topped 2.8m viewers. It was unbelievable.

It was lovely to hear folk saying that after seeing me on the programme they feel they can go out and do more physical work, not seeing it as a strictly male zone. It is an honour when people say they are inspired by you, but I always say that I just like being outside and helping Martin, it’s just what I do.

We have found that the general view from farmers has been quite mixed about the second series. The show was very crofting and food business minded and thus not as much of a focus on real farming and the commercial production of food to feed the public.


When they approached us for the first series, I didn’t want to do it as I was scared I’d look like a tit.

Mel convinced me as she said we would regret it when watching it thinking that could have been us. I enjoyed the first series as it was something new and different to try and we received lots of positive feedback and I think it was a great advert for Scottish farmers. I also managed to sell one of our bulls off the back of it, Luigi.

The second series focused a lot on Mel and me and didn’t show as much of our whole family who all work hard on the farm. They did a lot of filming with mum and dad which they never showed.

Initially, we just thought we were doing a catch-up series, but the cameras turned up so often and it turned in to a full blown second series appearance.

We didn’t appear in this series as much partly because we just never had the time to give them. We needed left in peace to get on with the job. It wasn’t until the following year, after series one, that you realise what jobs didn’t get done due to filming, so it felt like we were constantly playing catch up.

I’m hoping in the third series that they are going to push for more commercial farming, demonstrating big commercial beef and sheep units, farms feeding the country need to be shown.

I also think they should push the Young Farmers side of things as it is a huge part of the lives of youngsters in the sector and it’s an area they haven’t touched on yet.

How did you find winning a BAFTA for the first series and also collecting the award on behalf of all the farming families?


There were a few surprises with the filming and winning a BAFTA was one of them.

I had joked when we started filming about whether we would win a BAFTA or appear on Gogglebox, and low and behold, both happened.

I remember the BBC asking me if I would collect the award and give a speech if we won, and on the way to the awards I was so excited and nervous.

Mel and I are total film buffs, so we were completely star struck by the whole evening and remember feeling excited when we saw James McAvoy ... obviously Mel more! It was so surreal, we partied till 2am and were chatting to as many TV stars as we could.

What impact do you feel Brexit will have on the agricultural community?


I think we will be fine and it can only get better for us. We have good saleable products in Scotland that the world market will always demand.

Bigger problems at home are that the government keeps pushing money into green energy, anaerobic digesters and burning plants, all of them eating up thousands of acres of cereals and woodland, which is seriously affecting the livestock sector of agriculture.

The price of straw is now through the roof and sawdust is hard to come by. These factors are all putting massive pressures on the job. There will be a big bang soon when animal welfare becomes an issue.

What does the future look like on the farm, are there any changes being made?


We have already begun to make changes by giving up the estate sheep contract and now our focus with the livestock will be on embryo transfer and improving the herd.

More importantly, I have a baby on the way, so Erin will have a little brother or sister next February. We want to spend more time with the whole family and get away more, so prioritising family time will be the focus