This week The Scottish Farmer caught up with Aberdeenshire shearer, Ian Armstrong, on how he'd gone from clipping 50 sheep on his first day to 14,000 last year.

Excited about clipping sheep this year?

Hugely excited this year. I start in a fortnight, in late May. It is like so many aspects of farming, it starts great with enthusiasm but can get tiring, both mentally and physically by the end.

How many do you shear in a season?

As a sole trader, I can push myself to have a big season shearing doing it alone. Last year, it was obscene, I think I did around 14,000 sheep.

It was going to be my last full season before getting a full time job as a land agent, so I wanted to work every second that was available. In the light, in the dark, seven days a week from the middle of May until the second week in August, I was on the boards.

This year will be different, as I now have a job with Galbraiths, so my clipping is curtailed to weekends and evening and some of my precious holidays. But I have a girlfriend now as well, so I think we might even have to go on holiday. We can't go on ‘shearing dates’ all the time!

Do you prefer working on your own or part of a squad?

I sometimes I shear with one other guy, but a lot of my work is on my own.

A large squad doesn’t suit Aberdeenshire when the average flock is around 200, so in a big squad you spend more time setting up and travelling than shearing. So I tend to do it on my own and get round a couple of places each day.

But don’t get me wrong, the advantages of being in a team cannot be underestimated. There is nothing like the camaraderie of a shearing squad. Hard times seems to bring people together, sharing the hardship of a big day – then the relief of the drive home when everyone is in high spirits. A squad also really brings an atmosphere to a farm.

What is your record in a day?

My record for a day is 432 – which I did last year on four sites at Alan Whiteford’s units near Old Meldrum. The Whiteford sheep are enchanted, I think, as they are such good shearing – the wool just falls off them every year, so I knew it was going to be a good day.

It wasn’t all plain sailing as it included 12 enormous tups. These things were elephants! The wool roller needed help getting them up the race and if there is one thing a shearer doesn’t want to do it, it is spend time hauling brutes of sheep before clipping.

I reckon if I had the sheep fed to me on a single site, I could shear 500 in a day, but the stars have to be aligned for days like that, everything has to be perfect.

When and why did you start clipping sheep?

I started shearing in 2017. It followed by departure from Glasgow Vet school in the February.

I came back to Aberdeenshire to get work, I was sick of being in the city and studying all the time. So I did contract lambing from February until May and then thought, what the heck now?

I was helping out Peter Thorpe, a farmer near Methlick, when Tony Willox arrived to shear the sheep. Peter, who is never scared to address the elephant in the room, said: "Why don’t you help Tony shear?"

I was a young, fit and able loon and thought it was a good opportunity, so we exchanged numbers. Well that was one of the moments which changed my adult life.

What was your first days of clipping like?

A few days later, I turned up at a farm near Rothienorman and it was one of the most painful days in my life, without a doubt. Much worse than breaking my collarbone.

I think I managed about 50 ewes before lunch, but that was me – it was impossible to keep going because of the pain. I had been kicked so many times in the chest, it felt like I had gone 12 rounds with Mike Tyson.

So, in the afternoon, I ‘demoted’ myself to a humble wool roller. I did make it through the day though, only to be paralysed on the sofa all evening.

But the next day I went back and did a few more. Then again, and again and again.

I have to say Tony was brilliant at taking the time to show me how to shear, stopping regularly to explain things and lend a hand. By the end of the season, I could clip around 100 ewes in a day.

When you add in the cost of the kit, financially I would still have been better off sitting in an air-conditioned tractor like many of my friends. But it wasn’t a choice, I had been bitten by the shearing bug.

How did your shearing develop?

My second year shearing saw the biggest difference. I started off as a beginner and ended the season as an intermediate.

In 2017, I would have averaged 120 sheep per day over the season but my second year I was regularly exceeding 200 sheep. So, by the third year, I was making good money when you get around £1.20 per sheep.

Do you want to compete clipping sheep?

I did compete at the Highland Show in my second year clipping and thoroughly enjoyed it. But the shearing competitions are naturally in the shearing season.

It feels wrong to take a day away from shearing when there are so many farmers with their own sheep still waiting to be clipped. I don't like the thought of clipping a few sheep for a competition watched on by your customer who has a few hundred at home desperate to get their fleeces off!

Have you been on any training courses?

I went on one British Wool course with John Fyall, when he was at Sittyton Farm. It was good, but in reality it was Tony Willox who took his time and went out of his way to teach me to shear.

It's the daily tips on the job as a beginner that allows for the fastest improvement and stamps out the bad habits.

Would you go to New Zealand, or Australia to shear?

Yes, I would love to go, but I don’t think I will. I am rooted to Aberdeenshire and I have been building contacts and familiarity with the region which I hope will benefit me long-term.

You can pick up so much information from local farmers that is relevant to my own situation. If I went to a different country I would be for the adventure rather than the learning.

What area do you cover?

I shear sheep from Inverbervie in the south, up to Fraserburgh and into Tough. There are plenty of sheep in that region for me and I have never struggled to find work.

Any advantages to working alone?

Well, I shear 1700 sheep for a farmer down at Inverbervie by myself and he says it saves him days worth of work. Because I go at a slower pace than in a squad, they have time to also worm, mineral drench, dag and tag all the lambs, so therefore it saves double handling.

This happens with four others, plus me and we set up at different sites handling around 200-300 per time.

What sort of trailer and equipment do you use?

I have a hand-me-down homemade trailer from Tony. It is a bit rickety, but I have tweaked and stabilised it a bit and it works tremendous.

I use Heiniger gear, which most people do as well. Their brand stands for Swiss quality and it is true.

Any advice on someone getting into shearing?

Just do it. If you have decent fitness and you know how to coup a sheep then get in there.

The current opportunities are brilliant as there is a lack of willing labour. Once you build experience there is good money to be made in honest hard work.