Introducing #farmherkerry!

Explain who you are and what you do?

I support my Mum and Dad with their beef farm in South Ronaldsay and also do freelance reporting. I moved to Dundee when I was 16 to study for an honours degree in Mental Health and Counselling. During my time living “doon sooth” I got the opportunity to work as a lambing assistant on a sheep farm in Morayshire each Spring, which I loved. This was the first time I had worked with sheep.

After graduating I returned to Orkney where I have worked part-time in various “people-facing” roles including support work and employment engagement. Last year things changed a lot for me as I started promoting farming on my website, and Instagram as #farmherkerry I also started reporting for the Farmers Journal Scotland and started writing a light-hearted monthly farming column “Kerry on Ferming” with my local newspaper The Orcadian. In June 2018 I was honoured to receive the Young Livestock Ambassador Award at the Royal Highland Show. Since then I have gone on to work as a freelance with BBC Radio Orkney. This year I am just about to start in my new part-time role as Policy Advisor with the Orkney Branch of the NFU Scotland.

Tell me about your background growing up in Orkney?

I grew up on my Mum and Dad’s beef farm in South Ronaldsay. Every opportunity I had I would tag along with Dad and go out on the farm and “do the byres”, and I loved it. There was always something happening, when I was peedie I would have loved to have been a vet. I grew up in a house where my Mum also did a lot of work on the farm, especially at calving time and I feel that I learnt a lot working with my folks. Aside from the farm, I feel lucky to have grown up where I did. We had a lot of good friends and family around us and I’m proud of where I’ve come from.

Tell me about the sheep you have?

I have a small flock of twenty sheep. They are mostly Texel-Cross ewes and I have two Kerry Hill ewes, which I bought purely because they look like pandas!! I put a Texel tup back on the ewes with the aim of producing commercial lambs which I sell at the Orkney Mart or Thainstone Mart. I enjoy working with them and like to exhibit my lambs at my local show each August.

Can you describe your day to day in spring, summer, autumn and winter being specific about the care of your sheep in particular?
Can you tell me about the life cycle of your sheep – explaining about the routes to market etc?

I guess the cycle of sheep starts in the Autumn when I put the tup in with the ewes. The sheep stay outside on “good grass” and I try to take them inside for lambing in the spring time. I try to keep the sheep in for only a few weeks, once they’ve lambed they go back outside. With sheep, they tend to “do their own thing” most of the year but there are times where a lot of time and work is required, mainly at lambing time. In the Spring, the lambing can be full on, and I have to handle the sheep a lot. During the late Spring and early Summer I have to take the sheep in for shearing. In August I take the sheep in again, this gives me a chance to check the lambs and pick out m=any favourites for the show. During the Autumn I tend to sell my first batch of lambs in late September. Then in November I have to put the tup in again.

Can you describe the shearing process?

I ask a local farmer to come down and shear the sheep in the late Spring. It doesn’t take long to shear my small flock, it actually takes longer to get them all rounded up!! We gather the sheep in the byre and the sheep go on to the shearing trailer. The trailer has a small race up on to it, and the sheep are sheared one at a time. It’s amazing to watch and the sheep appear to be comfortable throughout the process, afterwards they look contented, especially if it’s a warm day. We roll the fleeces and they are passed on to the wool board.

Can you tell me more about the care of the land and how this impacts wildlife?

It’s in our best interest to look after the land. From my experience, I can see that the sheep definitely help the quality of the grass on the farm. By eating the longer grass it allows for the younger grass to thrive more. Our farm also participates in agri-environmental schemes. These schemes restrict when we can cut our silage and use certain fields so as to promote the native wildlife on the farm. We have a lot of native wild birds on the farm too.

What are your goals or aspirations for the year ahead?

I would like to continue to keep sheep but changes may have to be made to my flock. I am excited to be starting in the new role as policy advisor with the Orkney branch of the NFU Scotland. I would like to continue to work on the farms and do reporting.

“I haven’t always had sheep. I grew up on a beef farm in South Ronaldsay, Orkney and I never worked with sheep until I moved “sooth” to study in Dundee. At the end of my first year I applied for a lambing job in Morayshire which had around 600 ewes. I worked there every Spring for three years and loved it. I had never worked with sheep before but the couple I worked for were incredibly kind and taught me a lot, it made me determined keep sheep of my own. When I moved home to Orkney I convinced my Dad to keep a small flock of sheep for a few years. Dad chose to step out of sheep farming and I kept some of his ewes and bought my own replacements. I still have a small flock of 20 ewes. Working with sheep isn’t always easy but I get a great sense of satisfaction working with them and producing stock that I’m proud of.”

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