Rachel Murray is not your average farmer – she is both young and a woman.
At the age of 23 she is embarking on an exciting new career in agriculture and she is currently establishing a new herd of pedigree Aberdeen-Angus cattle.
She is one of the recipients of the government’s new Young Farmers’ Start-up Grant.
The £6million scheme sets out to support a new generation of farmers and crofters by providing grant support of 70,000 euros (£63,000) to producers aged between 16 and 40 at the point of application.
Successful applicants are paid 90% of the funds in year one and the remaining 10% is paid after the young farmer or crofter has met a series of milestones set down for them to build their new business.
Government has come under fire over its handling of the scheme after it emerged £5.23million of the £6million budget had been used in year one of the four-year scheme.
Miss Murray is one of the recipients from the first round of applications.
She is currently renting the 40-acre Burnside croft from her family at Bonar Bridge and said without the grant support she would not have been able to get started with plans for a new pedigree herd.
“I had to put together a five-year business plan,” said Miss Murray, who works full-time at Caledonia Dressage Horses at the nearby Balblair Farm.
“They (government) give you milestones you have to meet. They give you 90% up front and if you have completed all the milestones after five years they give you the further 10%.”
Miss Murray said her plan is to run the Sutherland unit as a traditional croft, but with a premium animal in the form of the pedigree Aberdeen-Angus cows. A small flock of Cheviot Mules will also be established to make full use of the grazing available on the croft and nearby common grazings.
Her milestone for year one is to buy cows, sheep, a tractor, quad and handling facilities.
In year two she has to extend the existing cattle shed and improve fencing, while in years three, four and five she has been tasked with meeting production targets. She is also expected to complete an HNC in rural business management.
“The grant has been great. It’s life changing at the end of the day,” said Miss Murray.
“I wouldn’t be doing crofting if I didn’t have it. It would have been a really long struggle. There’s no way I would have pedigree Aberdeen-Angus (without the grant) as you cannot just go out and buy 10 cows.”
To fulfil her first targets, Miss Murray has set about buying pedigree cattle from well-established herds in the north and north-east of Scotland.
She plans to have 10 cows by the end of the year and to date she has five in-calf cows – some with calves at foot – which were sourced from the recent Ellon-based Logie herd reduction.
Miss Murray also plans to get three more females from Hamish Sclater’s Deveron herd at Turriff and she plans to visit the Stirling Bull Sales with hopes she will manage to buy the last two females from the Aboyne-based Blelack herd reduction sale.
The Logie herd purchases were actually made by Mr Sclater on Miss Murray’s behalf as she was unable to attend the sale.
The young crofter said guidance from Mr Sclater and Sandy Watt, of the Swordale herd, has been instrumental in the past few months.
“I like Aberdeen-Angus,” said Miss Murray.
“We had cattle here before, but it was mainly Limousins. I thought I would go for an easier managed Aberdeen-Angus. I work with pedigree horses so I thought I had to go down the pedigree route.”
She plans to use the Murrayburn prefix and in the early years she will make use of artificial insemination until the herd is established enough to warrant buying a bull.
Miss Murray also runs a gundog breeding business and she is currently in the process of changing the prefix from Burnside to Murrayburn.
So what’s next for Miss Murray?
After her trip to the Stirling Bull Sales this weekend in the hope of buying some more cows, Miss Murray plans to attend next month’s Black Beauty Bonanza with one of the first heifer calves from her newly established herd.
“The next challenge is halter-breaking the heifer calf,” said Miss Murray.