The Hirsel is located in an ‘area of outstanding natural beauty’, just outside Ardgay, on the Dornoch Firth. We raise Hebridean sheep, as well as an assortment of crops – choosing Scottish heritage breeds and seeds whenever possible, with an emphasis on living and working with our animals and resident wildlife in a sustainable and environmentally friendly way.
The Hirsel is a partnership (Hirsel Enterprises) between Donald Gillies and Donna (DuCarme) Gillies. We are a member of the Hebridean Sheep Society.
Vat number: 259.4491.66
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The Hirsel has been the Gillies family home since 1969, when Donald Sr. and Jean moved to the Highlands with their two young sons from Houston, near Glasgow. In the beginning, they ran Cheviot sheep and grew potatoes and turnips, among other traditional crops. Jean continued to manage the farm on her own after her husband passed on and the two boys grew up and moved away to start their own families. But as she grew older, her activities lessened, with more and more of the farm falling into disuse. Until, around her 90th year, ill health finally forced her to stop altogether. (We think that’s a pretty good run, by any standards!)
At the same time, her eldest son – also named Donald – was at a turning point in his own life – and so was able to come home to become his mother’s primary care giver. Back on the farm full-time for the first time since he was a young man, he surprised himself with an interest in rehabilitating the neglected fields, which had become boggy and overgrown. By the time Donna joined him on the farm in June 2015, he was nearing the first hay harvest the farm had seen in nearly 30 years. His first gift to her was a pair of wellies, and she put then to use that day, helping to clean out the farm’s main drainage ditch!
With Donald’s background in heavy machinery and heavy lift designs (http://www.cadgelift.co.uk/) and Donna’s in the arts (https://donnaducarme.com/), they may seem an odd partnership at first glance. But in practical terms, they compliment and supplement each others’ skills and experience in ways that work surprisingly well for The Hirsel.
In September of 2015, we brought in our first harvest – a mix of hay and haylage which would see us and our first batch of Hebridean sheep – 12 ewes and a ram, which arrived at the end of October that year – through the winter. Those ewes, joined by 4 more ewes and two rams (all six of which were pedigrees) gave us our first batch of lambs in the spring of 2016.
Now, at the time of this writing, (September 2017), and after our second lambing, we have 64 Hebridean sheep on the farm (ewes, lambs, rams and hogs), and are working four fields with a mixture of hay and vegetable crops. We are ‘nearly organic’, working with green manures, and natural fertilizers such as seaweed and manure, and opting for companion planting and other pest control options, in lieu of pesticides, whenever possible.
As we continue to rehabilitate the fields, meadows, bogs and woods of The Hirsel, and investigate ways to make of her a working and sustainable farm again, we’re happy to have you along with us. Get in touch via our contact page – or follow our blog and/or our Facebook page, if you’d like to follow our journey toward building a sustainable, green, and (fun-)loving farm.