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. Vat number: 259.4491.66 BRN: 230182
Hebridean Sheep Society
National Sheep Association
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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 help care for his mother. 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 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 – his ability to improvise, repair, and operate almost any farm equipment, and her organizational skills – they compliment and supplement each other in ways that work well for The Hirsel. And they share the most important thing of all: a shared vision and love for our farm and all who live on it.
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 HSS registered pedigrees) gave us our first batch of lambs in the spring of 2016.
At the time of this writing, (June 2018), after our third lambing and our first sales, we now have over 90 sheep on the farm (ewes, lambs, rams and hogs), and are cultivating four fields for hay, and a fifth for a mix of fruit 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 natural pest control options, in lieu of pesticides, whenever possible. We’ve had our first day-trip visitors to the farm, and hope to welcome our first campers in August of this year – if our work schedule keeps up with our aspirations!
As we continue to rehabilitate the fields, meadows, bog and woods of The Hirsel, and investigate ways to make of her a working and sustainable farm again, we’re thrilled 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.