WHEN you walk into Lawrie and Symington’s Lanark market, there is no denying that one of the first people you always look for is the bright and bubbly Jenna Ballantyne – a woman who is always on-hand to help you with any questions you might have about a recent sale or an upcoming event.

Due to her reliability and wide knowledge of what goes on at the market, she is a familiar face that farmers and agricultural journalists alike can rely on, all of which points to why she is so well-known in the farming community.

Having been at the market for more than 10 years, Jenna, who hails from East Cauld Coats Farm, Strathaven, now has quite a bit of experience under her belt and that has allowed her to start up her own flock of sheep and take on roles within different organisations.

We caught up with her to find out about her career so far, and her honest, open, and ongoing, battle with depression, which she has now been clear of for around three years.

What is your job title?

I am a sales and office clerk and pedigree sheep assistant.

How long have you worked in the auctioneering industry?

I have worked at Lawrie and Symington for 14 years, but have worked in the industry for 16 years.

How did you end up at Lawrie and Symington?

I started as an office junior in 2004 and I took that job because I always wanted to be an auctioneer and I saw it as a way of getting my foot on the ladder.

I got the job straight out of school, aged 17. so it was a quick progression from lessons to full-time employment.

Did you have previous experience in the auctioneering industry?

Before starting at Lawrie and Symington, I was working with United Auctions on a casual basis for a few sale days during the summer holidays, then I went on to work with them on a full-time basis, for a short period.

I also did some Saturday store sales at LS Smellie before that.

Have you ever had any training for your role?

I have never done any training, and I would say that it works for some people but you definitely pick things up as you go along.

I also have a large interest in pedigrees, so that has really helped me and increased my knowledge.

Do you believe that training is a necessity?

A lot of what I know is because of my experience and the number of people I have met over the years and I also think I’ve picked things up because I have asked many questions and then learned the answers.

Some people need training, but I don’t think it’s always the right thing for everybody - people learn in different ways.

My job has also helped me to meet, both professionally and socially, a wider range of people involved in the pedigree industry, from all over mainland UK and Ireland.

This has helped me to open up more as a person, and be more confident in myself around other people, which has also helped me in my job.

How has your job changed over the years?

In January 2017, I took more to do with the pedigree sheep sales, mainly Texel and Beltex sales, and, more recently, Border Leicester sales.

This is an area of my job that I am very keen on and I find the pedigrees very interesting - finding out about where the animal came from and what it’s breeding is. It’s fascinating.

For the last few years, I have also been more involved with the sheep export side of things, exporting to Northern Ireland and that has actually been very interesting as well.

It’s not just a case of putting livestock in a trailer and onto a boat.

There is a big paper trail involved and I like that it makes you take a look at what you are doing and learn exactly how to do it.

Are exports important to the industry?

Exports are so important.

It doesn’t matter if it’s a Blackie, a Texel, a Simmental, or a Charolais, exports are needed in order to spread the bloodlines.

You have been open about your struggles with depression, how did you cope with that?

The first time I had depression, I wasn’t actually aware of it until I was fighting everyone around me and then I just totally broke down.

While it was happening, I was just dragging myself through it, really.

It happened because I was under a lot of pressure at that time, and there was a lack of support.

That isn’t a criticism, it’s just that support for mental health wasn’t really as in the spotlight then as it is now.

The second time it happened, I knew it was coming and I fought it for about six months, during the busy summer period, and it was when it got to the quieter time of year that it just started to come on again.

It was on the day of our Christmas party that it really came back and my mind just totally broke down.

I then went to Northern Ireland the next day and told nobody at all but when I came home I went to the doctor and addressed the situation, which enabled me to continue working on a part-time basis, which was quite important to me.

That was at Christmas time, 2014, and I would say I have had two or three years clear, with only one small breakdown since then and I hope that continues.

I am now back to working on a full-time basis, working the occasional Saturday as well.

How has suffering from depression changed things for you?

It has made communication at home a lot better and my mum and dad have even considered the fact that they too may have also suffered from depression at some point and a few others have also said the same.

Would you say that, in some way, farming can contribute towards a person becoming depressed?

Farming is such a lonely industry and I think that makes it very easy for farmers to fall into depression.

I wouldn’t say it was to blame entirely, but it can certainly contribute to depression.

How have you helped those in a similar position?

For my 30th birthday party, I asked people not to bring presents and instead I asked that everybody give a donation to one of three charities; SAMH, Marie Curie and Cancer Research.

Each charity got £500 each and I was so grateful to everyone who donated to each charity on the evening.

I just wanted to give back to things that have helped me.

I am also quite honoured to say that I am the person that people look for, and the person that people ask for help from, when it is required, if they find themselves in a similar position that I was in.

Do you have other interests within the agricultural community?

I used to help my friend, Lizzi Mackie, show her Texel sheep and that got me interested in them, so I decided to get some of my own, before expanding on to the Beltex breed.

I now have around 60 sheep in total, which are a mix of Beltex and Texel, with followers, with the majority being Texel.

We have found that the Beltex are selling better, but we are still striving to breed Texels to meet the demands of the modern market.

Do you have any other roles out with your job?

I am secretary for the Lanarkshire Holstein Club as well as the Lanark and Peebles Blackface Sheep Breeders branch.

I also sit on Strathaven Show committee.

All of that is just enough to keep me going, without it being too much pressure, meaning I can enjoy everything in a comfortable balance.

What is your outlook for the future?

In the future, I would like to return home and hopefully work there full-time.

That is where I would love to be, if I can get the money behind me to do it.

It would be great to do that and also maintain my involvement in the auctioneering industry, so we shall see what happens.