Shellfield Farm's Story

Taste of Place Trails Stories

Nikki from Shellfield Farm describes herself as “a bit of a townie”, and certainly never saw running a farm in her future before she and her husband, Fraser, moved to his family’s Glendaruel farm in 2012. Fraser and Nikki are the fourth generation of the family to farm at Shellfield, having taken it over from Fraser’s uncle. Fraser’s mum grew up on the farm and married locally before moving south, where Fraser was raised and where he and Nikki met. They worked in project management and PR, but when feelings of disillusionment with their corporate jobs coincided with Fraser’s uncle retiring, they decided to take the opportunity to start a new life on the Cowal Peninsula. They are fortunate, Nikki says, to have a rare lifetime tenancy on the farm – which was passed from Fraser’s grandfather to his uncle, and then again to Nikki and Fraser.

Working with the land

When Nikki and Fraser arrived on the farm it was, she says, “a very traditional hill farm”. It covers a vast area of 2,500 acres but most of this is hill land which can’t be farmed intensively, and which dictates the breeds of animals they can raise which are able to cope with the wild and unpredictable Argyll climate. They have a flock of traditional blackface sheep, and latterly the couple introduced a herd of Galloway cattle who are hardy enough to live up on the hill. They farm almost exclusively outdoors, with no real sheds to speak of on the farm, which Nikki says is integral to the taste and quality of their produce; “we’ve had to basically farm outdoors, which is much better obviously in terms of the meat quality because the animals are roaming the outdoors and getting the benefit of the land.” The Argyll hills, along with the salt marsh which also makes up part of the farm, and a naturally foraged diet is what makes Shellfield Farm’s produce apart.

Adapting and growing

Before Nikki and Fraser took over the farm, the family had been raising animals and then selling them at livestock markets, with no involvement in the processing of their meat. They decided they wanted to keep their lambs on longer than the farm had been previously, producing hogget meat which comes from slightly older lambs and which, Nikki says, “enhances the quality” and avoids using concentrate to fatten the animals, letting their meat develop its flavour naturally. From there, they joined Food From Argyll in 2014 and started branching out into event catering. Gradually, over a few years, they invested more in the catering business and were attending larger events like Islay Whisky Festival and Murrayfield. Everything was going from strength to strength until the COVID-19 pandemic put a stop to the large gatherings upon which Shellfield Farm had become so reliant. Luckily though, Nikki says, they’d had the foresight to build a commercial kitchen and butchery on the farm, which had originally come about as a way to be “a bit more creative in terms of what we could take to the events and what we could do.” Their original plan had been to use the kitchen to make burgers and salads which could be used in their catering business, but when the pandemic began they had to adapt very quickly.

The commercial kitchen allowed Shellfield Farm to pivot their business towards the creation of ready meals, which make use of their own meat as well as local fish and other local ingredients. The ready meals are now stocked in farm shops across Scotland, and baked goods and catering are also proving lucrative more locally.

Local produce, with pride

Nikki describes the pride she feels in having built this family business – a thriving, productive farm – and being able to provide stability for their two young daughters, who are enjoying a childhood surrounded by animals and nature. It’s very important to Nikki that her daughters have both their parents present, and having the farm and running their own business allows both her and Fraser to be primary caregivers to their children. Nikki also feels a sense of pride in the development of her own cooking to create the ready meals – she says that despite not being trained as a chef, she loves cooking, and wanted to challenge herself to see if the cookery side of the business was something she could accomplish. By all accounts, she’s certainly succeeded, and her meals are now an integral part of the business alongside the bakery and, of course, the meat itself.

 

Discover more about Shellfield Farm and other producers as part of the Farm Produce Taste of Place Trails >

Meet the producer