FARMING ON the most northern tip of Scotland is no mean feat, but despite the tricky terrain and volatile weather the stunning landscape and strength of island community make for a rewarding career within Scottish agriculture.

Stars of the recent series of the BBC’s This Farming Life – Shetland farming sisters, Aimee (22) and Kirsty (26) Budge, took on the family farm at Bigton five years ago when their dad Bryden was tragically killed in a farming accident. They have risen to the challenge with the support of family and friends, to continue his legacy on the island and to build their own.

Running a mixed livestock and arable farm on the south of Shetland, they look after 90 cross suckler cattle, 500 ewes and 60 acres of barley. Their farm covers 700 acres, which includes grazing on the island of St Ninians – attached to Shetland by a spectacular sand spit, which made for a dramatic backdrop to a beautiful location on the TV series.

The Scottish Farmer:

A spectacular sand spit connects mainland Shetland to the Island of St Ninians where the Budge's graze around 100 ewes

Together, with the support of close family and local farmers, the Budges have trialled new ways of practice on the farm such as getting involved with the monitor farming project and increasing their stock numbers to breed their own replacements.

The SF spoke with Aimee Budge about the challenges and opportunities which have arisen from taking over the family farm, filming with the BBC and how they are embracing new ideas to improve profitability and future viability of the business.


Aimee explained that living and farming on Shetland brings its challenges, but pointed out that they had been lucky with location and choice of livestock.

“Farming on Shetland can be a real challenge as a lot of the ground is stony, but we are very lucky that we farm some sandy ground which allows us to keep the cattle outside all year and the terrain is relatively flat which allows us to grow our own animal feed.

“We keep around 100 ewes grazing on St Ninians’s Isle which can be difficult when the tides are high as we can’t reach the sheep, sometime for many weeks at a time. We also have problems with gathering the sheep as they often will wander off the sides of the cliffs which can lead to rescue attempts, making the job a lot harder.”

Aimee and Kirsty explained that to fence their land would set them back a lot of money, so they had been trialling new ways to keep sheep on safe ground by reducing stock densities in the hope that there was enough grazing to satisfy them without the need to wander off the cliffs.

The Budge sisters have a mix of Charolais, Saler and Shorthorn cattle, and Aimee explained why the three breeds are suited to their operation: “We sell our Charolais crosses as stores in April at the Lerwick sales as that is where the demand is. The Shorthorn are a great native breed and their hardiness means they can stay outside all year which is suited to our terrain and the weather.

“Lastly, the Salers are easy-calvers which gives us peace of mind at calving time and they are also a top choice with our local butchers who like them because they have a good, lean carcass.

“We sell most of our cattle on at a year old to be fattened but we keep around 15 to finish ourselves and those are killed at 18-20 months. We work closely with our local butcher as everything is killed here on the island and we’re now increasingly selling meat boxes straight to our customers through advertising on Facebook.”

Shetland isn’t known as an arable production unit, which can mean feed imports for livestock can be pricey. The Budges are lucky to be able to grow 60 acres of spring barley to help keep costs down and allows them to supply some barley to local farmers. Over the last year, Aimee said they had been looking at ways to increase crop yields on the farm, but explained that it hadn’t been as successful as they would have hoped.

“We are extremely lucky to be able to grow our own feed here, as most of the hill is stony and limits what farmers can use it for. We wanted to increase inputs to get more barley yield from the same area, however, I increased the fertiliser too much and usually we put on a growth regulator spray, but we didn’t get that right, so some of the barley was too heavy and flat.

“It was a difficult job combining this summer and we lost around 10 acres of crop, but it’s all part of the learning curve as we want to be bold and try new things, knowing that we aren’t always going to get the results we hope for.

The Scottish Farmer:

Around 60 acres of barley are grown at Bigton however Shetland isn't commonly known for arable production due to its stony terrain and harsh climate


Aimee returned home to Shetland in May, 2018, after completing three years at Craibstone studying agriculture. She shared some of her experiences of studying and working in Aberdeen – and what it was like transitioning from student-life into full-time farming.

“I loved my time in Aberdeen, especially making lots of life-long friends and experiencing living somewhere new for a short period of time. The college work itself was fine, the lecturers were a bit outdated and I felt weren’t adapting with the modern pace at which farming is moving – so there is a lot of improvement that could be made.

“The best part about my time in Aberdeen was working on a local farm at Tarves, with Andrew Sleigh, for two years. He looks after around 150 Saler and Simmental suckler cows, 200 sheep and around 200 acres of arable, so there was lots to do and learn which I could bring back to my own farm.

“I made lots of friends working at the farm and Andrew still keeps up with weekly phone calls and has visited Shetland a few times.

“When I finished up in May last year, it wasn’t until that September that the move back home to full-farming really sunk in, as a lot of my friends were going back to college and that was the end of that chapter in my life. I do miss the social life and being around so many young people of a similar mindset, but I love my job and feel so lucky to be farming every day and to be my own boss.

“Kirsty did a fantastic job taking over the farm while I was at college and it’s great to be back and work alongside her. We get on really well and don’t have time to argue.

“We have a saying that if someone suggests something that we let them do it and if it fails then we can say ‘I told you so’.”


Aimee and Kirsty have a huge support network at home, who all pitch in at busy times of year, particularly during calving and the summer harvest.

Since their dad died in 2014, they and their mother have had to step up to the challenge of taking responsibility of the farm, but they have constant guidance and support from their grandpa Jim and mum Helen

“It was really difficult, at first, having to step up after dad died. Everything reminded us of him on the farm and it still does, but we have come out of the whole experience stronger and with a lot more confidence in our own abilities. We are so grateful for everything he taught us from when we were tiny.

“Dad was very hands-on and got us involved with everything but there were total unknowns which he hadn’t had time to teach us, such as how to work machinery which we have had to learn from scratch.

“Mum and grandad have been really supportive and help us every day with various jobs, which has made us all very close as a family.

“Our sister Hannah is amazing too, and although she doesn’t work on the farm, she comes home to help with lambing and calving when she can.

“Our uncles pitch in, too, particularly with machinery as Kirsty and I don’t have the experience to deal with breakdowns and any other issues.

“The same can be said for the wider community here on the island as there is a great network around us, so we know we will always have help on hand.”

The Scottish Farmer:

Bigton farm has been involved with the monitor farm project for three years and has welcolmed around 40 individuals to meetings thorughout the year


There are around 10 working farms on Shetland and a much larger number of crofts, with a lot of islander’s crofting alongside part-time work.

Shetland still has an abattoir, which is a lifeline to the local farming community, giving them the option to slaughter their beasts without a long journey to the mainland.

“There is more livestock than there is demand for meat on the island, especially for cattle,” Aimee continued. “Most sheep are sold as store, but with cattle it can be better to finish them. But, there just isn’t the demand from butchers.”

Three years ago, the sisters got involved with the Monitor Farm project and are due to hold their last meeting next February. Since getting involved, Aimee said they had benefited from the experience and wouldn’t be where they are now without the advice they gained from other farmers.

“We meet around six times a year and sadly it will be coming to an end this coming February. We were astonished by the turnout we have had to meetings, with a huge take up from the local community and around 40 folk coming to each one.

“Farmers are becoming increasingly more open to share what is going on with their own operation. They are more open to change and being involved with this project has given us the push to focus on what improvements we could make and to take on valuable advice from experienced farmers.

“We have also had some excellent speakers come to the farm ranging from feed merchants to experts in grazing and had a special visit from Trevor Cook who came all the way from New Zealand. Farmers need to start doing things differently and learning from others is a really good place to start.”


The Budges got involved with the recent BBC This Farming Life series back in January, 2018, and shared some of the highlights from the series and why it has been important to them to educate the public on the reality of Scottish farming.

“We didn’t apply originally to take part in the series but were nominated by a few people, which prompted the BBC to get in touch. The camera crews first arrived in January, 2018, and it was great to begin with as we were fully prepared, but there were other times when issues arose on the farm and we were extremely busy and we did feel the cameras got in the way.

“Overall, they were a great crew and took some beautiful shots of our farm and the surrounding landscape which we will have forever.

“We were a bit worried about what people would think of the series, as there are some difficult scenes on Shetland with calving and lambing. We have had a tonne of messages from people saying they loved the series and we get stopped when we are out and about in Shetland by locals who watched us on the programme.

“I think being part of TFL raised our confidence and taught us to be more patient at times, as you had to wait a lot for the cameras which can be tricky when the weather changes in a flash and you have to make quick decisions.”

The Scottish Farmer:

Aimee and Kirsty were named BBC Countryfile's Farming Hero's in 2018 and travelled with sister Hannah and mum Helen to attend the glitzy awards ceremony in Bristol

One of the highlights from the series was winning the BBC Countryfile Farming Hero Award, which involved a glamorous trip down to Bristol for a glitzy reception, all caught on camera. Aimee admitted that they were shocked to be nominated, but so happy to go on to win and be rewarded for all the hard work.

Being part of the BBC hit series provided a platform for Aimee and Kirsty to be able to showcase the true nature of farming as they explained that often Instagram and other social media hides the difficulties that farmers face.

“We are working all the time and it is hard work, so sometimes it can be difficult when you are seeing pictures on social media of your friends always going out and you can feel like you are missing out.

“We both feel that sometimes Instagram can give a glorified view of farming with people in fancy clothes cuddling lambs smiling at the camera, where we feel like we are in our boiler suits elbow deep in work. We didn’t want to make an impression that farming is easy and wanted to make the public aware of the hard work we put in to caring for our livestock to produce quality Scotch beef and lamb.”


Moving home from Aberdeen and away from her Young Farmer’s Club, Aimee decided that Shetland was lacking from not having a local club.

In April, 2019, she and Kirsty held their first SAYFC meeting, with more than 40 attendees and have since set up a committee, registered with SAYFC and have 30 registered members.

“It is really important for young farmers to take time-out, away from their business as otherwise you can let yourself get really run down. Setting up the club has been great for creating a social hub for people on the island and it’s not just farmers who come along, so you get to meet new folk. We have already held clay pigeon shooting, stock judging, sports nights and baking competitions.

“Out with young farmers, I play netball and ride my ponies, which gives me that headspace to think and enjoy myself. I leave the island once a month to see friends and think it is so important to do this and keep up with friends that I have made elsewhere.

“I love farming and wouldn’t change what I do, but sometimes you need a change to clear your mindset. Mental health is a big problem up here and I have recently met with a mental health co-ordinator to see if we can start a campaign with SAYFC on the island to engage with young and older farmers.

“The young generation are more aware of the challenges with mental health but getting through to the older generation will be tricky as stigmas still exist and they can be resistant to change and discussing these issues.”

The Scottish Farmer:

Shetland young farmers club was brought back to life in April this year and already has over 30 members, with plans to compete off the island next year


There are big changes ahead for Scottish agriculture in the coming months and Aimee concludes by sharing her thoughts on Brexit, the growing need to look at succession and why more young people should consider working in farming.

“Brexit is a big unknown for farmers in Scotland and here on Shetland we rely heavily on subsidies, especially with high freight costs. Getting feed on to the island and selling our stock to the mainland is a huge concern but equally we are concerned about the prospect of future tariffs and the impact it could have on crofting on Shetland.

“We want to keep improving our efficiency and profitability but it’s hard to do when we don’t know where the market is and what demand will be like.

“Succession is something we are passionate about and we want to do more to promote it and make sure other young farmers are getting a chance to take on responsibility and make decisions earlier on in their career path. We know we came in to farming early because of losing our dad, but there are still plenty of folk in their late thirties who aren’t even on the cheque book.

“It is all about normalising that conversation early on and getting your family support behind you.

“Farming is such a rewarding job! It allows you to work outdoors with animals and to be your own boss. We love what we do, and hope others will see what we are doing and know that it is possible to step up to the challenge if you are willing to put yourself out there.”