Orkney Boreray has given Norman and Hazel Shearer of Airy Farm, Stronsay, a new focus for their farming activities.

The farm has been home to traditional beef cattle for generations and, until recently, Norman and his father Ingram kept a closed herd of Aberdeen Angus and Limousins, being very strict about breeding their own replacements. In December 2020, however, a health scare caused them to have a major re-think about the way forward for the farm. Hazel explains: “Norman was taken ill and while he was in hospital our daughter and family had to arrange the sale of cattle. It had been a difficult decision and, with just a few young cattle remaining, we really didn’t know whether we would want to start over.

“We’ve always liked sheep, and already had a small flock which was started from our daughter’s pet lambs. We heard about the Borerays through the friend of a friend who suggested we get in touch with Jane. We thought it would be good to do something different and the breed conservation aspect along with our areas of wild flowers for insects and birds gives another dimension to our farming life.”

With the largest of the new Orkney Boreray Community flocks, the Shearers currently have one ram, Grimbister, 10 ewes, 11 ewe lambs and 10 mutton wethers which will represent the first of their meat sales when they go to Dingwall in August.

Describing the experience of having the rare breed sheep in their care, Hazel says: “It’s nice to have something that’s new to us all and although we miss the cattle, the sheep soon won us all over – even my father-in-law. Their temperament is great and they have proved to be very well behaved. Our ewes are of various ages and we find that our grass, which is quite soft, suits the older ewes.

“We are grateful to the Orkney Boreray community for their encouragement, support and advice as we start our new farming venture. We appreciate working with sheep that are produced more slowly and have a wealth of crafts associated with them. Our daughter is learning to weave now and there could be an opportunity for her there. It’s a very rounded, more complete, way of raising livestock and although we are new to rare breeds, we like the ethos behind the Boreray community way of breed conservation.”