By Alasdair Macnab BVMS MRCS Cert BIPOVS

Life seems to be a series of challenges. Challenges bring change and a different view of life and other matters develops. It is one of these challenges that led me to start writing for the Scottish Farmer. Life will not be the same again ...... But then, it never is.

A chance meeting with Patsy Hunter at a market and a conversation about the challenges being faced by those affected by the withdrawal of cattle passports relating to an ongoing investigation started a discussion. Where do farmers find out about these issues? What actually happens when a passport is withdrawn? What are the implications? I suggested the Scottish Farmer contact BCMS, APHA and a local authority for advice on what happens and their respective roles. The conversation then moved on to other issues facing farmers and how the industry often has difficulty finding out about a subject in plain English. You can guess the rest!

My life, like everyone else’s, has been one of continual change, meeting challenges and having a go – and not at those closest to me.

I am a veterinary surgeon and a farmer. I spent 11 years in general practice with Gerry McIntyre in Dingwall then 25 years in the state veterinary service under its continually changing names.

I have built or renovated several houses, run a timber recycling and wood flooring business, worked a croft, a suckler herd, bred pedigree sheep and now farm the family farm of Kildun at Dingwall where, with my wife Gill, we run the Alagils herd of pure Limousin cattle.

I am currently NFUS Ross-shire branch chair and sit on the NFUS legal and technical committee. I love a challenge. My other half spends a lot of our quality time pulling me back from challenges and ‘tidying up after you’.

Along this road in life we pick up gems of knowledge and wisdom which help us deal with challenges. It was Gerry McIntyre who showed me a very interesting approach to business. Treat your business (veterinary practice in this case) like building a wall. If you build a wall from five big stones and you lose one, you lose your wall (or business).

If you build your wall from small stones and bricks and you lose one you still have a wall. Perhaps this is a point farming should reflect on.

Perhaps my, or I should say our, biggest challenge so far is purchasing the farm from my parents. Being the oldest of five, and my parents taking the position their estate will be shared equally, the only way I would get the farm was to buy it.

So, in 2005, we embarked on what has been a challenging, interesting, at times terrifying, yet enjoyable experience. We have made friends with many new people, many who have become close friends, several bank managers all of whom have provided great support, encouragement, advice and solutions. None in a bottle so far!

The big challenge with farming is the ever changing environment it exists in. Farming lies between all the experts in what we do from scientists and advisers to pressure groups, between the good weather and the bad, between markets and suppliers, between a neighbour’s opinion and a friend’s, between good days and bad, between family and work, between success and failure. Compliance with a vast library of legislation and rules, much of which most farmers are completely unaware, is a painful addition.

Looking back at some of the major challenges the industry has faced in the past, it is amazing how farmers, indeed humans, respond to a challenge and change what we do.

For example World War II brought rapid advances and new people to farm the land. Technology has enabled us to produce more from the same area at the same price as 40 years ago, foot-and-mouth changed the way we manage animal movements and heightened awareness of biosecurity.

EU membership and globalisation brought freer movement of animals, plants and diseases. We are now recognising the consequences of globalisation.

Challenge brings change. If we accept a challenge we change as a result of that challenge. If we do not accept or cannot deal with that challenge, it will still change us. It is how we respond to challenge and the change that follows that determines the outcome. For some it is development as a person for others it can be devastating.

Last year, I had the privilege of listening to the New Zealand Farmer Doug Avery, talking about mental health illness in the industry and how he dealt with the challenges he faced. It was humbling to hear him. I encountered similar situations many times in my career as a state vet dealing with welfare cases where it was clear there was illness at the source of the trouble. That illness varied between disease, alcoholism and, mental health and often more than one issue is involved.

Helping folk through the issues with their stock and giving them support to deal with the other issues in their lives was, for me, a great satisfaction.

Overt cases like these mask a deeper problem in farming and crofting. There are many who are just managing to cope on a daily basis, just making ends meet, that struggle to understand the complexities of the industry. When I left the vet service I started a consultancy, AJM Agri Ltd, which provides help for farmers and crofters in complex situations where informed advice is not always available.

I have helped farmers negotiate their way through a TB breakdown, sort out records and get up to date and deal with local authorities all because they could not source reliable and informed advice and help.

Looking forward I intend to look at issues affecting the industry explaining them in day to day language – impacts of specific diseases; biosecurity; mental health; myostatin; genomics; notifiable disease control; roles and powers of enforcement bodies. I might also tell you about some of the challenges we are facing at Kildun.

If there are specific animal health issues, you would like Alasdair to write about in his monthly column, please email