“Living the dream of farming full-time”

Scottish farmer Janet McQuistin speaks to Farmers Guide about rural life, the power of social media in overcoming isolation, and how she finally achieved her dream of farming full-time, despite the opinions of a school guidance counsellor.

Image © Caroline McQuistin

Keen photographer Janet was first introduced to Instagram by her daughter, and has since gained over 8,000 followers to her account, where she shares stunning photographs of her herd of Highland cattle and Beltex, mules and Bluebelle sheep in south west Scotland.

As well as sharing the countryside with those who may not otherwise get to enjoy it, she says social media is a good way of connecting farmers who may otherwise feel isolated.

“I remember one lambing time there was particularly horrible weather and I was having a really bad day,” she says. “I was sharing pictures and people were posting pictures of their lambs and sheep taking off over the hills and it makes you think, well I’m not alone.

“I quite enjoy seeing what other people are up to, especially with Covid when we can’t get out to see each other and there’s no social interaction.”

Often, non-farmers will ask questions and Janet feels it’s important to always take the time to explain what she’s doing and why. “People used to have so much more of a connection to the countryside and farming – they may have had a grandparent, parent etc who worked in farming – but they don’t anymore. So, I find it quite important to tell people what’s happening, not to preach but to let them share my day. I do a lot of stories to show that we care for the animals. I’ve had no negativity – I’m sure it’s bound to come but I feel very lucky.”

Offering her top tips for social media, she says its important to “be yourself and have fun”, but also to find your own style.

“It’s a good time for women in farming”

Janet says she always wanted to be a farmer, but when she shared her ambition with a school guidance counsellor, he was “horrified” and discouraged her. She became a teacher instead but farmed part-time with her husband Neale. Now, however she says she is living her dream of farming full time, having given up teaching.

She believes Instagram is helping to encourage more women into farming: “There’s so many good female role model farmers now. I think if [they had been there] when school said to me ‘you shouldn’t be a farmer’, I could have said ‘wait a minute there’s the Chief Shepherdess, the Red Shepherdess – they’re doing it, I can do it too’.

“It’s a good time for women in farming now, especially with social media. When I was young there was nobody really to compare to and encourage. But I never got any discouragement from farmers as a woman in farming – I’ve always been very included and appreciated.”

Upland farming

Janet runs a cattle and sheep upland farm with her husband, keeping 500 sheep and a beef enterprise breeding Highland x whitebred shorthorn calves. Wildlife stewardship is a big part of the farm’s business.

The farm manages grassland areas to encourage voles for barn owls, as well as ditches and wetland areas which are carefully managed for small mammals and flowers. The Highland cows are a great benefit in managing various wetland, scrub land and wooded areas, encouraging new growth.

As a spin-off from her Instagram account, Janet has had members of the public wanting to come and visit the cows, prompting an agri-tourism diversification.

Challenges ahead

Commenting on the biggest challenges ahead for farmers, Janet believes it will be feeding a growing population ethically and sustainably.

“It’s going to be a fine balance to feed this growing population and not destroy the planet in the process – and keep the image of farming too,” she explains. “We are custodians of the countryside. I think a lot of people don’t realise how much we care but I love the countryside. A lot of farmers are blamed for destroying it, but people don’t realise how much we do to look after where we live. It’s the lack of understanding of farming and I think that’s where social media comes in.”

Catch up with Janet’s latest updates on Instagram at @Airyolland or @kitchencoosandewes

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