That’s Farming editor, Catherina Cunnane, in conversation with Sean Cursiter, (34), a young sheep farmer from Scotland, in this week’s Sheep Focus segment.
“My name is Sean Cursiter, and I live in Evie on Orkney, an island in the North of Scotland.
Laga Livestock and Kirbister Mill Farm are family-run by myself, my dad, Michael and my uncle, Martin, the main directors of Laga Farm, my mum Ruth, and my partner, Emma.
Farming has always been a family tradition on my dad’s side, so I am the fourth generation.
I farm full-time on Laga, our home farm and Kirbister that we recently bought in February 2022, adding another 540 acres to what we already farm.
Along with seasonal shearing contracting, three months of the year, shepherding and throughout the winter months, I work one day a week stock handling at the local depot.
We work long hours, as most farmers do. For example, when I am away contracting, Emma and my mum will step in and pick up my workload, and everybody else will do that bit extra to keep things going.
It is not easy, but we find a way and have to make it work to survive with the way farming is going.
I am constantly thinking ahead. It is like a game of chess; you have to always be a few steps ahead of the game and make sure everything you are doing is done efficiently.
The beauty of a family-run business is everyone mucks in when they need to.
Young farmer in Scotland
I never really enjoyed school and would work on the farm every chance I got as a boy.
I have been interested in farming for as long as I can remember and spent most of my childhood helping my grandfather. So, I was either working or playing on the farm as a boy.
At the same time that I left school, my grandad was ready for retirement, and I took over the workload alongside my dad and uncle.
Laga has 100 suckler cows, which are Limousin-cross-Shorthorns, ten of which are pedigree.
Also, we have 5-6 young bulls, 750 ewes, 400 ewe hoggs and 60 shearling tups, all of which are Lleyns.
On the other hand, Kirbister Mill Farm has 10 suckler cows, and we will be working up to stocking up to 800 ewes. We have Cheviots, Romneys, and Shetlands on Kirbister.
My great grandad and grandfather came from the North isles, Papa Westray, where they sold their farm and fishing boat to come across to the mainland of Orkney to buy the farm in 1952.
That was the start of Laga farm at 60-acres, and we now have about 800-acres, and we rent another 1100-acres as seasonal lets.
Various farm enterprises
We farm various enterprises from store cattle, fattening cattle, breeding cattle and the same with sheep.
We also grow seasonal crops of spring barley and used to dabble in agricultural contracting through the eighties and nineties.
On the sheep side, our main enterprise is breeding good commercial, functional breeding sheep for the modern-day farmer with excess and reject sheep going into the fattening market and store lambs.
In Orkney, it is a relatively short growing period. The Lleyn is a medium-sized ewe that can produce a lot of kilograms to her bodyweight, which maximises what you can get out of the grass season, and she is good at bouncing back from working hard at surviving the winter to going into lamb.
A good efficient, maternal ewe with minimal problems is what we strive for.
On the cattle side, we are trying to breed good commercial store and fattening cattle. My father, Michael, works at producing pedigree cattle, Shorthorn and Limousin bulls, as a hobby along with farming full-time.
We produce enough barley to provide our stock with enough feed and bedding for over the winter months; we grow about 40-acres per year of spring barley that we feed along with silage that we grow in the summer months.
My main focus is to continue progressing the business and providing as good a stock as we can on the land that we have and hopefully to pass on farming to the next generation.
The biggest challenge farming on Orkney faces are the shorter growing seasons and the long winters, extra costs for all commodities coming in and stock going out with the added cost of freight being on the island.
The forever-rising input costs and the stock prices are not rising with it as these have remained the same over recent years.
Farming is a viable business if you put your all into it and constantly look for new and the right opportunities. Working with what you have and making the most of it, and continually progress.
Besides, some readers may recognise us from This Farming Life, as we featured in season five.
We thought it was a great opportunity to showcase how farming produces food for the nation and to educate people about what goes into farming.
My future plan is to keep progressing across both farms. We are keen to invest in the infrastructure of the farms, improve the land and continue to breed good stock.
We are looking to improve the efficiency of the farms to run as many animals as we can and to maximise the efficiency of work per each man, developing sheds, handling systems and fencing.
The outlook of farming is probably quite unstable, and the future is unknown.
I do not feel farmers are rewarded enough for the quality progeny that we are producing, and this is an area that needs to be improved.
I am proud to be a farmer, and I love working alongside my family and my partner, Emma.
I am excited to wake up and face new challenges daily; no two days are the same.
It is hard work and can be a bit of a rollercoaster, but it is worth it when you look back and see what you have achieved.
Throughout my life, I have always set goals, whether it be in sports or various competitions and winning Britain’s Fittest Farmer in 2019 was a great achievement.
The achievement I am most proud of is building up my shearing business. Besides, the slow build-up of my own stock and farm has been a lot of hard work, and time goes into it; it is my livelihood and life along with my families.”
Are you a young farmer in Scotland? To share your story, email – [email protected]
Read more Sheep Focus profiles.