AT THE age of only 18, Shaun MacLeod has already made big strides in his chosen career, and winning the agriculture category at Lantra Scotland’s ALBAS has proved that this young man is destined for great things.

He has already cemented his position as a lead tractor operator at one of Moray’s biggest mixed farms — Matheson’s Ltd — and plans to further his development through training and hard graft.

Shaun said: “Mum worked in the office at Matheson’s when I was younger, so we’ve known the owner and his family for many years. As I grew up, I used to help out during the harvest or lambing season and at weekends. I wasn’t enjoying school and didn’t want to go to college so I decided to leave at 15 and commit myself to farming. Since then I’ve never looked back.”

To further his development, Shaun did a Modern Apprenticeship through his employers, supported by SRUC Oatridge. The apprenticeship delivered practical learning in the workplace, with support from the college for the theoretical framework and qualifications.

Shaun said: “My parents and I went to Oatridge to find out more about the apprenticeship, then they came out to speak to my boss at Matheson’s, and it wasn’t long before I was signed up. It took two years to complete the 24 modules, which covered a range of areas, from animal welfare to cultivation, biosecurity and health and safety. As I completed the modules, my tutor would visit and mark them as finished. I only did four days at college so most of my learning was building experience on a working farm, which I loved.”

Shaun would describe himself as a ‘tractor man’, but his role extends way beyond working with machinery. The farm consists of 500 acres of land with a further 300 acres rented for sheep. They have 350 outdoor organic sows for breeding, 600 indoor breeding sows, 12,000 laying chickens, 1200 ewes, cereals as well as land let out for organic potatoes and carrots. The farm also contracts out machinery and labour to neighbouring farms.

Shaun said: “The great thing about Matheson’s is it’s a mixed farm so you can learn everything in one place. That’s why I could do all 24 modules here. I get involved in all parts of the arable side from ploughing to sowing and subsoiling, as well as all the odd jobs around the farm such as fencing and general maintenance. I’m also contracted out to other farms and I do a lot with the livestock. I really enjoy the lambing season and working with the pigs and chickens. There’s so much to do, and no two days are the same.”

The impact of COVID-19 has been apparent across the rural sector and farming is no different. Shaun said: “There’s been a few changes for sure. We have to keep our distance and we don’t get to meet for our tea breaks, which I miss. But a lot of the work you do is on your own anyway, particularly with tractors, and there’s plenty of space to keep your distance when you do join people. Farming can be a solitary job, but personally, I like it that way.”

For such a promising young talent, the future is certainly bright, and Shaun already has plans. He said: “Right now I’m very happy where I am. Matheson’s is a great farm to learn your trade then build a career. I’d like to continue my training so I can learn new skills. Next on the list is my trailer test and first aid would be a good one to get too. I might want to own or rent a farm one day, but that’s a long way in the future. Outside of work, I’d like to continue competing in national and local ploughing competitions. I came third in the Scottish Championships last time, so I’m keen to beat my record next year!”