With 16,000 farmers the length and breadth of Scotland, there’s a rich seam of talent in our country.
And it’s that seam Eilidh MacPherson tapped into to create her latest book, 300 Farmers of Scotland.
The editor of a bi-monthly magazine focusing on the farming industry, Eilidh used her contacts to get to work on the book.
She personally knew around 80 farmers who are featured and word of mouth helped her discover even more who had fascinating stories to tell.
The compilation provides a glimpse of the innovation used by today’s farmers to ensure they not only survive but thrive.
Eilidh said: “I found it really interesting finding out what the farmers are doing differently these days – it was really enjoyable.
“The truth is I’ve only just scratched the surface as there are around 16,000 farmers in Scotland.
“However, I’ve already started on the second installment and I’m hoping that will be ready in time for Christmas this year.”
300 Farmers of Scotland was released in December 2016 and has won rave reviews, not least from those who are featured within its glossy pages.
One of the farmers who was only too happy to appear was Ewen Macmillan, from Lurg, Fintry.
He was able to buy and run a farm at the age of 23 and now, 23 years on, he is a well respected Blackface breeder.
Ewen’s sheep command impressive prices for both breeding males and females, including a record £8000 for an in-lamb ewe.
But it has not all been plain sailing for the hard-working dad of three and his wife Louise.
He took over at Lurg in November 1993 when it had 1700 ewes – 1300 Blackfaces and 400 mules.
Within nine months, Ewen had reduced that number to 1400.
And in 2000, he made a few difficult management decisions to improve profitability on his hill property.
He had no option but to let Alec Steedman, “an exceptionally good man”, go and slashed the number of ewes to 850. It proved a more manageable number for a one man outfit.
Ewen has since seen an increase in profit margins and his shepherd’s house now also brings in a rental each month.
With fewer ewes, the feeding bill is also lower and the stock is healthier.
It’s been an interesting road for Ewen, who was brought up on Arisaig Estate in Lochaber, which is father and grandfather both managed.
As such, shepherding was in the blood and Ewen started at the tender age of 16. So it was no surprise, perhaps that aged just 23, he felt confident of running his own farm.
He looked at quite a few places before settling on Lurg in Fintry.
Ewen said: “I felt mature and able to take on the world – my father went back up to Arisaig and left me to get on with it and make it pay.
“It’s good farming country in a lovely area which was ideal for me.”
Ewen contines to make the farm pay to this day.
He lives at Lurg with his wife Louise and their three children Hannah (6), Ruaridh (3) and one-year-old Lucy, so he has plenty to keep him busy as well as the farm!
As for appearing in the book, Ewen was more than happy as he is a personal friend of Eilidh’s.
He said: “It’s a great book. I’ve not read it cover to cover yet but I’ve dipped into it every now and again.
“Even just for making contacts and discovering what other farmers are doing to diversify, it’s a fantastic and really interesting read.”
Ewen is well known on the show circuit and his Blackface sheep have been shown at Drymen and Gargunnock, as well as the local Fintry show.
He has had numerous champions in the last 23 years, with no doubt more to come yet.
However, as you would expect, his busiest time is lambing season.
“It can be quite a lot of hard work at that time of year,” he said. “You don’t get too much time to yourself!”
He was delighted to be included in the book and hopes it is a big succeess.
Ewen added: “It was nice to be invited to take part in the book and I wish Eilidh every success with it.
“I believe she’s already working on her second installment and with her own farm to contend with, it sounds like it’s going to be a very busy year for her!”
300 Farmers of Scotland is out now, priced £25.
Eilidh speaks from experience
Eilidh MacPherson combines hill sheep farming at Marbrack – between Ayr and Castle Douglas – with her husband Richard Nixon.
Together they farm 2500 acres carrying 1200 Blackface sheep.
Eilidh is also editor of a now bi-monthly publication, Farming Country magazine, which was known as farmingscotland.com when it was free.
Her last book From Thistle to Fern, which was published a decade ago, featured Scots who had emigrated to New Zealand and set up the High Country Sheep Stations.
Eilidh is a hill sheep and beef farmers’ daughter from the Isle of Skye and headed off overseas once she graduated from Edinburgh in Agriculture.
She spent six seasons as a professional sheep shearer, employing Kiwis on Skye, then headed to the Antipodes for the winter.
She managed a lamb group, worked for Scotch Quality Beef and Lamb and then as an independent livestock buyer.
While in New Zealand, Eilidh wrote full time for the New Zealand Farmer for a couple of years – covering Southland and South Otago.
She also freelanced for a number of other titles including High Country Herald, Shearing Magazine, Southland Times and the Otago Southland Farmer.
Farmingscotland.com magazine was launched in September 2003, on her return from overseas – a free monthly title.
It changed name to Farming Country in 2012 so it could be sold in newsagents and shops across Scotland, Northern England and Northern Ireland.
300 Farmers of Scotland is available now from local outlets, priced £25. Follow Eilidh on Facebook at farmingscotland.com or Twitter @farmingscotland.