We have a range of training opportunities of different lengths and types for shepherds. There is a dedicated Sheep Keeping course at Border College and sheep keeping course units at Scottish Rural Colleges (SRUC) and Orkney College. There are a range of 1 and 2 day courses (formal and informal) available through LANTRA and other private training providers. These courses include shepherding for small holders, lambing, dog training and conservation grazing. There are strong professional and peer to peer networks such as the National Sheep Association, the Farm Advisory Service and specialist forums (generally online) including the Nibblers Forum of the Rare Breeds Survival Trust, the Pasture Fed Forum, the Mob Grazing Forum, Women in Regenerative Agriculture. The Farm Advisory Service run a mentoring service linking existing farmers to new entrants.
We interviewed a range of sheep keepers and sheep trainers and several themes related to training and shepherding were common to many of the shepherds. Many of our respondents did not have formal training but learned from family members or existing shepherds but maintained strong links with professional and peer networks. We asked which elements should be central to shepherd vocational training and these included business and direct marketing training, habitat and biodiversity management including incorporating agroforestry, genetics and breeding, digital record keeping, sheep dog training, health management. Most of our respondents discussed the problems of wool, and the lack of rural abattoirs was identified several times as an ongoing problem. The costs of shearing are often more than the price of fleeces and there is a desire to have a more strategic and workable model for using the abundant wool produced. Most discussed the barriers to entering or continuing in the profession including the low income related to the high costs and high risk, and the barriers to accessing training were costs, travel from remote rural areas and finding cover to look after animals to allow them to take part in training.
Perhaps one of the less know factors about shepherding in Scotland is the number and range of female shepherds. There is also a women in agriculture training fund to support training of new shepherds and farmers. The Farm Advisory Service (FAS) has case studies about women in agriculture, such as Dawn Desto-McKinnon. FAS also run a shepherd mentoring scheme matching up new entrants with more experienced shepherds.
There are many innovative female shepherds in Scotland setting up new businesses, maintaining heritage traditions, and helping to conserve Scotland’s biodiversity. Cara Cameron has set up a youth and new shepherd training centre up in Highland Scotland (Lochview Rural Training). Charlotte Blackler has set up a sustainable local food business in Perthshire (Herb Majesty). Liz Gaffney runs Heartfelt), keeping sheep and processing the wool herself for a range of products & creative activities. Scotland has its very own conservation shepherdess, Laura Cunningham, who runs a mobile flock to help conserve the biodiversity of key habitats. (https://scottishwildlifetrust.org.uk/how-to-help/make-a-donation/appeals/flying-flock).
Along with many parts of the world, online communication and training in Scotland has increased significantly during the pandemic. Jasmine Grant has set up an online sheepdog training course (https://www.facebook.com/braehillor/).