NEW ENTRANT farmer Michelle Stephen and her partner Gary Bruce (an established farmer) are living proof that farmers certainly don’t choose the easy life, but their passion for the sector justifies the long hours.

New to farming in 2017, Michelle and Gary bought Meikle Tillyeve, Udny – an 86-acre farm where they now look after 670 breeding ewes, 400 store lambs, eleven tups and two hard-working collies.

Outside of the farm, Michelle is also a full-time trainee land agent with Bell Ingram in Aberdeen and Gary is a full-time Product Manager with ACT in Turriff and they have recently began hosting sheepdog training events where they take the opportunity to promote Scotch lamb.

Earlier this September they held two sheepdog training events alongside Braehillor Sheepdog Training, run by Jasmine Grant, with nine people attending both days. Following the success of the event, they plan to hold further events this coming November.

Michelle is currently busy studying to become a qualified RICS chartered surveyor and explained how she manages her time and ‘time off’ to pursue all her different ambitions:

“Our holidays are used for lambing, shearing, scanning and buying in store lambs. In fact, our last ‘proper’ holiday was a sheep dog training course in the Borders with Julie Hill. Through working at Bell Ingram, I have found that understanding what your clients do and taking an interest in their business is a huge asset. Once they realise you are a farmer yourself and are familiar with the industry, they trust you to carry out the work.”

The Scottish Government has just announced their new match making service, to pair up retiring farmers with budding new entrant farmers, to combat the challenge of getting a foot on the farming ladder. Michelle explained the barriers she came across whilst trying to enter the farming fold: “The main obstacles we faced were finding funding, time, access to equipment, land at a reasonable price, and good markets for selling livestock. Land can be very expensive where we stay and trying to make ends meet can be quite challenging while ensuring you’re saving money to buy somewhere yourself,” she continued. “We found the Agricultural Mortgage Corporation were great to deal with to secure funding to buy the farm, they were much more approachable than ordinary banks.”

Michelle benefited from receiving a Young farmers Start Up grant of £70,000 – one of a few successful applicants, which gave her the support she needed to invest in important equipment to get her business off the ground: “The grant helped me to buy a new handling system, trailer, weigh crate, electric fencing equipment, stock recorder, polytunnel and ewes. These improved my operation’s efficiency, as I’ve been lugging heavy gates into a neighbour’s borrowed trailer, setting up the sheep handling system before packing up and heading to the next location, and recording births and deaths on paper before submitting onto a spreadsheet,” she explained.

“It was quite a stressful process gathering all the evidence together for the grant scheme, so I employed an agricultural consultant who had much more experience with the correct wording for these applications and between us we submitted the huge document. The Department took months to make their decision, and this can be quite challenging for new entrants’ businesses as they require you to have a Short Limited Duration Tenancy (SLDT) without any certainty that the application will be successful,” she stressed. “There were also times when I saw offers on machinery but was unable to buy, in case I jeopardised the grant. There is an expectation that you either have savings to pay for the tenancy or an overdraft, but these are quite big risks for a new entrant and their business. I was very fortunate to have the support of my full-time job to see me through these hard months until the grant scheme had been approved.”

Over the next three years Michelle and Gary hope to increase their breeding ewe numbers to 1,000 and host more sheepdog training events and trials to encourage more people to take part in trailing. “For both sheep enterprises - breeding ewes and finishing fat lambs - we would both hope that the sheep trade evens out and we are able to find a good market for the lambs,” she urged. “We would also like to breed and sell efficient recorded breeding sheep, not any particular breed, to highlight what their parents have done. As all the ewes and their lambs are currently performance recorded to allow us to select the best sheep to breed from,” she concluded.

If you are interested in attending one of Michelle and Gary’s upcoming sheepdog training events to be held at Meikle Tillyeve, Udny – the next two will be held on Sunday, November 17 and Monday, November 18. For further information and to register your interest contact Michelle on 07557 915 690.