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Backbone of Britain: Highland shepherdess plans for the future - ‘We’re focusing on breeds native to the area’

Tasked with turning around the 12,000 acre farming operation on a highland estate is no mean feat, but it’s one 25-year-old farm manager Chloe Malcolm has grasped by the horns.

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Chloe Malcolm
Chloe Malcolm
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Backbone of Britain: Highland shepherdess plans for the future - ‘We’re focusing on breeds native to the area’

Spanning from the Pap of Glencoe to Corrieyairack Pass on the way to Loch Ness, Jahama Highland Estates is nothing short of vast.

 

The land scales some 46,134 hectares (114,000 acres) in total, and while not entirely contiguous, it is managed as one entity.

 

Encompassed in this is a 4,856ha (12,000-acre) hill farming operation, among the largest in Scotland, stretching over ground in the Glenshero and Inverlair areas.

 

As would be expected, ground here is steep and unforgiving in parts, with hill ground rising to 1,100 metres (3,609 feet) at its highest point which is managed alongside in-bye areas close to settlements in the Glens.

 

Jahama is part of Gupta Family Group (GFG) Alliance, a collection of global businesses and investments owned by Sanjeev Gupta and family.

 

Interests

 

Among interests that include deer stalking, environmental management and a property portfolio, the estates farming enterprise is currently home to a 600-ewe North Cheviot cross flock.

 

While that may seem somewhat small-scale for such a large area, Julia Stoddart, chief operating officer at Jahama Highland Estates, explains that this, alongside several other areas, is being reviewed as part a new management strategy underway on the estate.

 

Julia says: “Sustainability is at the heart of the new vision – a key target for GFG is to achieve carbon neutral status by 2030.

 

“We focus on delivering benefits across the three pillars of sustainable development: economy, society and the environment, and as a result, any management decision made aims to deliver tangible results in each of these areas.”

 

As with each of the enterprises on the estate, its farming interests need to align and at present a key component here is reviewing the current flock and how it is managed, after which scope to build livestock numbers and incorporate other livestock class’ will be explored.

And this is where Chloe Malcolm comes in.

 

Born and brought up on her family’s farm in nearby Duror, farming has always been a sector Chloe was intent on pursuing a career in.

 

From working with show cattle and a commercial sheep flock in Devon, to Luing cross cattle, commercial and a pedigree Hampshire Down flock on the Isle of Bute, alongside various contracting jobs in between, Chloe has had a fix for various systems.

 

It was while on Bute that she met her partner, Jamie Hendry, a stalker and gamekeeper at Jahama, that Chloe’s first links with the estate came about.

 

Tasked

 

As the estate’s first full-time employed farm manager, she is tasked with innovating and enhancing its farming operations which up until this point had largely been run by Jamie and his father, Bruce, alongside their stalking and gamekeeping duties, under the estate’s previous management.

 

On taking the sheep flock forwards, Chloe says: “We’re focusing on breeds native to the area, as they can survive well on the rough grazing we’ve got while still producing a decent lamb to sell.

 

“Just now, we’re looking at the best way to do that. One approach being trialled this year is introducing a Bluefaced Leicester tup to breed Cheviot Mules, with a view to selling breeding ewe lambs and possibly gimmers.

 

“We also tried a Texel tup over 30 draft ewes last year, which were then sold with lambs at foot in June and provided a decent return.”

 

With her approach, Chloe is conscious of producing marketable sheep, but also those that are performing well for the farm going forward.

 

She says: “I want a ewe with a nice Cheviot head, good on its legs and so on but it’s also important that ewes have that good breeding quality to go on and produce.

 

“In the future, I’m hoping to start doing a lot more recording; things like lamb birth weight, weaning weight to see which ewes are producing better stock so I can start retaining the better genetic lines.”

 

Whereas lambs have been sold through the store ring at Dalmally up to now, Chloe explains that she is also hopeful she will be able to look to start finishing lambs going forward.

 

With the farm being run as a commercial entity, producing meat to sell is set to increasingly become more of a primary output, with the plan being that in time, this can be done directly from the estate to customers.

Julia says: “A key remit for the estate is to reconnect people with place via food.

 

“We have recently opened a pop-up venison shop in Fort William, retailing our own wild venison. The meat is branded with the Gaelic saying Fiadh a Fireach, which translates as a deer from the hill, reflecting the ancient connection between Highland people, natural resources and the traditional activity of deer stalking on the estate.

 

“The long-term vision is that we will extend this offering to include lamb, mutton and beef via our own butchery.”

 

Appointment

 

Chloe’s appointment may represent a departure from the usual demographic for a farm manager in Scotland, of which, according to the Scottish Survey of Farm Structure and Methods, only 16 per cent are female and 4 per cent younger than 35.

 

Chloe says: “There were a few raised eyebrows at the start, but it never really bothered me. I think that can be said for any young person starting out in the farming industry, male or female, whatever job they are doing.

 

“You quickly learn that when you start contract shepherding, it takes a while for people to trust you and you have to work hard to make a name for yourself.”

 

And far from concerned with the statistic, most important, Julia says, is that the right individual is in place to do the job.

 

Julia says: “Chloe had been doing some contracting work for us beforehand and my plan was always to bring her in as permanent farm manager. There is a lot to be said for having and keeping local, young and competent staff.

 

“There is a real ‘brain drain’ problem in the Highlands and Islands; young people can’t get decent work, so they leave which has a knock on effect on communities going forward.”

 

The opportunity to return home and be close to family and friends was also invaluable for Chloe.

 

She says: “I had worked away for a while and while it was brilliant to have that experience, being close to family was something I was missing, especially as children were starting to grow up, you miss out on things being away.”

 

Now more than a year into the role, Chloe is enthusiastic about the opportunities ahead.

 

She says: “I’m excited by this new challenge. It’s rewarding to see some of the decisions we have taken to improve the flock having a positive impact already. Next, once I can start to record more, is to start breeding up genetics and continue to improve and build the flock.”

Proud to farm

Unapologetically proud of the industry, and focusing on the people who make agriculture tick, Farming: The Backbone of Britain is a feel-good editorial campaign to shine a light on farming communities.

 

Click the button below to visit the hub.

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