As part of our campaign to Back British Farming we sit down with farmers on our rural community blog, and chat about all things farming. In this blog we spoke with Maddison (@haddenfarminggroup), who is an Scottish farmer. Maddison helped us understand the commercial enterprise of farms she works on, how she came to be a farmer, her journey to breeding pedigree animals and advice for first generation farmers interested in making a name for themself in the industry…
Hadden farming group is a joint farming enterprise run by myself and Alan across three sites in Fife, we are predominately a sheep farm breeding multiple pedigree breeds alongside our commercial flock. But it hasn’t always been that way, neither of us are from farming backgrounds originally, Alan comes from business and me, well now I look back it seems I just spent my life waiting for farming to find me.
I grew up in the countryside but was always detached from the fact the countryside could provide me with so many opportunities, at no point in my education was farming (or any associated industry) ever promoted as a career path. Yet in the autumn of 2018 I found farming by accident, stepping onto a working farm one day a realisation that this is what I had been waiting for washed over me. Within a few months I was working on that same mixed livestock farm full-time and loving every aspect, the huge learning curve and daily challenges, a fire had been lit and nothing would do but I needed to build my life in this industry.
By spring 2020 the opportunity for a fresh start came about. Alan, while also being first generation, had been farming many years previously and together we started building what is now Hadden Farming Group. Luckily Alan’s previous experience and knowledge along with some contacts in the farming industry meant we were able to grow our business (and patch the holes in my knowledge) relatively quickly.
We both knew our passion lay in sheep but when starting out we didn’t have the land to support ourselves on fat lambs alone. We needed something different. One of our farm motos is “be a leader not a follower” (ironic as we choose to farm the animal most renowned for following). I knew I wanted to breed pedigree sheep but we are surrounded by well known breeders of many popular commercial breeds and without a generational name behind us we could never compete with them. The tradition entwined in the farming community can make it very difficult to break into so we set about finding our own market and we found it in rare breeds.
Alongside our then small commercial flock we started welcoming pedigree rare breed sheep onto the farm. The first was the babydoll (an American descendant of the Southdown), we became the first breeders in Scotland and these lambs gave our income a huge boost, we are still running a 2 year waiting list and this pushed us to find other breeds to welcome onto the farm.
We now run four rare breeds of sheep alongside our ever growing commercial flock, focusing more on native breeds. Our pedigrees included Whitefaced woodlands, Lincoln longwools and Greyface dartmoors all with their own unique attributes (and challenges) that they bring to the farm. These breeds have helped us find our own market selling stock all over Scotland and north of England, away from competing against our neighbours, all while helping preserve some of this country’s rarest breeds of livestock. As we sold to more and more smallholders and those just starting out we saw a gap in the access to education, practical experience and support once people were over college age and that helped push one of the more recent diversifications of the farm “Experience the Farm”.
We both have an interest in education and I am keen to show as many people as possible that there is a future in the farming industry for them if they want it, as I was so unaware of this myself growing up. So, earlier this year we took on the running of a new small farm and opened it for educational experiences and courses. The new farm gave us a great base to promote our existing stock to a wider audience, plus the chance to take on new stock. It brought the addition of our commercial herd of goats, plus a pedigree rare breed herd as well… of course. We also added a flock of poll dorsets to our commercial flock this year which we are currently lambing. The out of season lambing has provided a great opportunity to hold lambing courses and events at the farm without the pressures of lambing the higher numbers in spring. It also means we will now have a more consistent supply of fat lambs to sell as meat boxes throughout the year.
The farming industry is such a fantastic close knit community but it’s that closeness that presents the biggest challenge for new entrants like myself when starting out. However, if you have a passion for the industry you can still force your way in, you may just have to think a little out the box. The best bit of advice I could give to someone at the start of their journey in farming would be To find your own path in and encourage those ideas that make you stand out a little. Almost all farms now need to find ways to diversify to ensure their survival so use your fresh pair of eyes to your advantage and push what makes you different.
If you’re a farmer and you’d like to contribute in our campaign to raise awareness for the incredible work in British agriculture, please drop us a DM on Instagram – @aplanrural