A YOUNG Borders shepherdess has written a book about her life.
Triallist Emma Gray took on the tenancy of a remote small farm in the Northumberland hills, single and aged just 23, and then wrote about that ‘rolllercoaster’ year.
Speaking before publication, the 26-year-old from Hawick told TheSouthern: “I can’t wait for the book to come out.”
Now training sheepdogs to supplement income from the 150-acre Fallowlees, Emma first came to public attention through one of her dogs winning a local trial, which led to a journalist from a national newspaper travelling to the farm in Harwood Forest to interview her. And the subsequent piece led to ghost writers asking to “put my life into print”.
“But one publishing house said they would like me to write it and, as I wanted it in my own words, it seemed like a great option.”
The third generation farmer is the oldest of Richard and Helen Gray’s three daughters – her parents farm sheep and cattle at Muirfield, by the A7 between Hawick and Selkirk – and the former Hawick High School pupil did a year’s sheep management course at Kirkley Hall in Northumberland before travelling in New Zealand when she was 18.
“I grew up on a farm, farming is in my blood, and I can’t imagine ever doing anything else. I love it, and although it has its ups and downs, usually weather-related, I love being my own boss and taking a pride in my stock.
“My enjoyment of my dogs was also a big factor. As part of the specialist sheep management course I had to train a sheepdog which further fuelled my hunger to have my own place. “
She described gaining the tenancy on Fallowlees – which has neither mains electricity or central heating – from the National Trust as lucky.
“I was in the right place at the right time and thankfully the National Trust saw me as a good tenant. I realise that to some Fallowlees isn’t an ideal farm, it is remote and hardly milk and honey land, but it’s a step on the ladder. For a young person, particularly a female, it is a really lucky break to land even a remote farm.”
Asked about living and working by herself, she said: “I have my dogs and they mean the world to me, but just because I live on a remote farm doesn’t mean I’m not like other girls my own age. I do like to go out, it just takes me a lot longer to get there.”
Asked what she had learned, Emma said: “I have learned never, ever to let the generator run out of fuel and always leave a torch somewhere easy to get to in the dark, and never leave upturned plugs lying around.
“I’ve also learned a lot about myself. Before Fallowlees I had never lived on my own and I quickly had to adapt. I learned I can manage most situations and I have a lot of faith in my own ability to cope. I am a dab hand at punctures now.”
What next? “More and more sheep. I plough any money I get straight back into the farm and sheep. In an ideal world I would like 1,000 sheep of my own. I’m a few years from that, but that’s my aim. “
Meanwhile, she’s training sheepdogs and carving out a name for herself in trialling circles. She and Roy, her “right-hand dog” represented England at the international sheepdog trial in Tain last year when he was only four years old.
Asked what makes a good dog, she said: “I just choose a well-bred pup with nice dark eyes, but it’s a lottery really – Roy and Alfie, my best dogs, were pups left after everyone else had had their pick. It’s really the work you put into them that makes them good. I like dogs who are honest and hardworking, it makes my job of training them much easier.”
She has a flock of more than 90 sheep, including blackface, mules and some Texels. She added: “I also have Hebridean sheep for the dogs to run on: they’re wily and quick and great to stop the dogs getting bored.
“My farm really should have good walls and fences to keep sheep in. It has neither. But I do have very well educated sheep ... they know what to do when I take a young enthusiastic dog out – run to me.”
I read her book in a night and loved it. She charts the risk of leaving a job she loved (shepherdess of 1,000 mule ewes), getting the tenancy of Fallowlees against the odds, its trials and tribulations, staging duck rounding-up demonstrations, working as a rousie, blokes and sheepdogs. Kelso tup sales plays an important part, along with cabbage rugby in the Square.
One Girl and Her Dogs is now on sale..