At the age of just 18, Shaun MacLeod has already made big strides in his chosen career.
Last year he won the agriculture category at Lantra Scotland’s Awards for Land-based and Aquaculture Skills and works as lead tractor operator at one of Moray’s biggest mixed farms, Matheson’s.
For Shaun, training and ‘hard graft’ will be key to his career development.
He says: “Mum worked in the office at Matheson’s when I was younger, so we have known the owner and his family for many years.
“As I grew up, I used to help out during the harvest or lambing season and at weekends. I was not enjoying school and did not want to go to college, so I decided to leave at 15 and commit myself to farming. Since then, I have never looked back.”
To further his development, Shaun did a modern apprenticeship through his employers, supported by Scotland’s Rural College Oatridge.
The apprenticeship delivered practical learning in the workplace, with support from the college for the theoretical framework and qualifications.
Shaun says: “My parents and I went to Oatridge to find out more about the apprenticeship, then they came out to speak to my boss at Matheson’s, and it was not long before I was signed up.
“It took two years to complete the 24 modules, which covered a range of areas, from animal welfare to cultivation, biosecurity and health and safety.
“As I completed the modules, my tutor would visit and mark them as finished. I only did four days at college, so most of my learning was building experience on a working farm, which I loved.”
Shaun describes himself as a ‘tractor man’, but his role extends way beyond working with machinery.
The farm consists of 202 hectares of land, with a further 121ha rented for sheep.
They have 350 outdoor organic sows for breeding, 600 indoor breeding sows, 12,000 laying chickens, 1,200 ewes, cereals, as well as land let out for organic potatoes and carrots. The farm also contracts out machinery and labour to neighbouring farms.
Like many farms, Covid-19 has brought some changes to the farm’s operations.
Shaun says: “We have to keep our distance and we do not get to meet for our tea breaks, which I miss.
“But a lot of the work you do is on your own anyway, particularly with tractors, and there is plenty of space to keep your distance when you do join people.”
When asked what is next on his training schedule, Shaun says: “My trailer test and first aid would be good ones to get. I might want to own or rent a farm one day, but that is a long way in the future.”