Growing up as a farmers daughter on the island of Islay, Jessie MacFarlane has reignited her love for agriculture and island life by renovating a farm and living her dream.

Here she spoke with Kathryn Dick:

What is your background in agriculture?

I was born and brought up on Islay. My father worked on a farm for the Schroder family, at Dunlossit Estate, while my mum was from a crofting family, near Bridgend on Islay. My sister and I spent most days at Keills Farm with dad, where we raised pet lambs, lifted rocks after ploughing, harvested potatoes in the holidays for pocket money – and I took little heed of farming and what it involved.

I left school and worked for Hydro Electric Board – now SSE – leaving Islay, aged 25, to continue working for them in Perth. It was at that time I met my husband, Rod, who worked in telecommunications but had been brought up as a dairy farmer, in Ayrshire. We lived in Auchterarder, Perthshire, for 22 years whilst bringing up four children together.

In 2017, with the children all flying the nest, we saw an advert in the local Islay paper, Ileach, for a 250-acre farm located on the coast of Islay. Three days later, we had made an offer and secured ownership of the farm – our dream was becoming a reality.

We moved to Tormisdale in March, 2018, and the reality of buying a farm with a rundown farmhouse and somewhat neglected steading started to hit home. Luckily I like a challenge!

I work as a telecommunications consultant specialising on the power supply, working remotely from the farm, whilst also managing a self catering cottage located on the island, Laggan View, since 2005, and currently developing a shepherd’s hut with hot tub for guests.

We produce straw and hay for personal use and for sale, as well as growing barley for Bruichladdich distillery. This is used in production of a local barley bottle that will name our farm on the label.

The farm is home to a flock of Zwartbles, Hebrideans, Texels and Cheviot crosses, which are used to breed fat lambs that we are aiming to market locally, rather than it all being sold off the island.

Speaking to other Zwartble breeders, the fleeces are often just discarded as waste as they often have no value, however I wanted to start making use of the wool and have since had my Zwartble fleeces spun into yarn. My first Islay Zwartble throws, which are being woven on Islay, will be ready for sale this month. I hope to make all aspects of my sheep profitable and respect for the animals is very important to me.

Tormisdale is also involved with the Woodland Creation Scheme, working with Iona Hyde of the Scottish Woodland Trust and Georgie Brown at ‘Trees for life’ and we have now signed a contract to commence a 9600-tree planting scheme.

Islay is a very fertile and green island and has a great tradition for producing excellent beef and lamb. It is also famous for whisky and tourism so the plan is to capitalise on all these aspects and make the farm work for us.

Can you tell us a bit about your job and what it entails?

I have a busy career working as a telecommunications consultant and I’m currently working on a project advising on the installation of power supplies to telecommunication masts – my farming knowledge helps here, too.

With the self catering business, the wool spinning venture and my day-to-day farming life with hens, sheep and crops, I don’t have a lot of spare time – but I love what I do.

What aspects of farming on an island do you love most?

Its simply beautiful – where else could you live and work in such an amazing and ever-changing environment. Islay’s wildlife and geography is so unique and very special to be a part of. Being able to see, feel and smell the sea is the thing I missed most when I lived in Perthshire.

Favourite agricultural show to attend?

I have to say our local Islay Show. I’ve not missed many shows and have attended in many capacities, either as a visitor or exhibitor. A fond memory of the show would be showing our classic Opel Manta rally car and, as a child, eating giant slices of melon and coming home with coconuts and gold fish!

What has been the best and worst advice you have received?

The best advice would be ‘do our own thing’. We have had so much advice from friends, family, neighbours, farmers and accountants alike and we listen but ultimately make our own choices and so far, it has worked.

The worst advice was from our own children who said ‘don’t do it’ – all of whom now really ‘get it’ and love visiting and helping on the farm when they can.

What gives you the most job satisfaction?

Lambing can be a frustrating time – its messy, exhausting and baffling at times, but I love bringing new life into the world

What’s been your biggest achievement to date?

I would have to say successfully growing and selling barley to Bruichladdich distillery. We are in our third year at Tormisdale and are working with land that was last ploughed some 40 years ago so it has been a challenge but one that we have loved! Even on Islay, we can get two tonnes to the acre – and this year’s crop looks like it might do a little more.

What’s your favourite breed of cattle and sheep and why?

In the cattle, it has to be the Galloway, which is that was what I grew up with. I love the temperament and their suitability to the type of land we have.

In terms of sheep, I love my Zwartbles – they are biddable, friendly and full of personality! Owning them is more like having a pack of dogs than a flock of sheep!

In your opinion, what are the main problems in the agricultural industry?

The uncertainty of the future can be a worrying prospect. Most farms our size and geography depend on grant schemes to enable them to survive. We have no idea what will happen going forward and we are making decisions now that could go against us in the future.

To help secure our future we are involved within two agri-environment schemes – Corncrake and Chough – which will end in 2021.

Outwith farming, are you involved in any other organisations?

I am the communications secretary of the local car club, as well as being a keen crafter, crocheting and I love knitting. I also make lampshades, bottle lamps, cushions – anything else that takes my fancy really.

What piece of advice would you give to any female wanting to make a career in agriculture?

To go for it! I think we can bring new ideas and transfer skills to farming life that can add new sources of income, which can make farming more than just a lifestyle business. I feel the mental health benefits of a life with access to the outdoors and working with animals are huge.

Favourite alcoholic beverage?

It would have to be Caipirinha. I’ve not made it to Brazil yet, but it’s on my list.