Outdoor life is just the job for Kirsty
It is not uncommon for teenagers to feel uncertain about making a decision on their future career choice and Kirsty Wilkinson faced a similar dilemma. However, her happy memories of the time she spent on her grandfather’s farm in Scargill when she was growing up and the local demand for help at lambing time have led to her decision to become a freelance shepherdess. Reporter Wendy Short went along to meet her.
KIRSTY Wilkinson admits that she did not enjoy studying for her A levels and felt that university life was not for her.
A brief period as a waitress after leaving school quickly confirmed her conviction that she is better suited to working outside, preferably, with animals.
In January 2017, she decided to use her previous experience with sheep to take on some lambing work. The offers soon flooded in and before long, Ms Wilkinson, who also lives in Scargill, was making a living wage.
One of her first clients was Doug Anderson, who was featured in a recent edition of the Teesdale Mercury.
Now aged just 20, she takes his lambs to market when they are ready for sale and was a constant presence at lambing time, even walking to the farm one day, following a heavy snowfall.
Doug is soon to retire, but Ms Wilkinson also works on a regular basis for three other holdings in the dale, as well as travelling to other flocks on a casual basis, to help with worming and vaccination, etc.
She still finds time to assist on her grandfather George Rigg’s farm, where he runs a flock of Swaledales. They go to the Blue-faced Leicester, to produce Mules.
“I will never turn down the opportunity to work and earn money,” says Ms Wilkinson.
“I will usually be working six days a week and am willing to work all week during busy periods.
“The demand fluctuates, so I am always looking for new opportunities and the chance to build up my list of contacts.
“This year, I tried my hand at clipping for the first time and I found out that it is all about the technique. I would like to become more competent, so that I could potentially help out at shearing time.”
She adds: “I have some experience of getting sheep ready for shows and sales and I was involved with the preparation of some pedigree Swaledales last year, but I would like some more experience in this area.
“I am grateful to Utass for providing the instruction that I needed to take my trailer test and to pass it; I would definitely go back to the organisation, if I needed more training.”
Ms Wilkinson’s involvement with sheep management has led to a burgeoning interest in sheepdog training and last May she purchased a Border Collie puppy at the Skipton auction mart sale.
Taff has very good working lines and is a grandson of Ricky Hutchinson’s noted trial winner, Sweep.
“Taff has proved to be a good investment, although he is still a work in progress, as he is young and the final stage of his training is yet to come,” she adds.
“Having a well-trained dog is useful and it increases my chances of securing employment, because not all of the farms where I work have their own working collies.
“I have a second sheepdog, but she is rather headstrong and stays with my grandad most of the time; he uses her for flock work.”
She says: “I love being self-employed and I’m certain that I want to continue shepherding.
“I would like to have my own flock one day, although I’m not sure which breed I would choose. I handle Mules and Continentals a lot and find they perform well commercially, so perhaps they would be the start of a flock for myself.
“But I also spend a lot of my time with Swaledales, which is another breed that I admire.
“At this point, I’m not sure whether I would like to farm on my own.”
She adds: “The dog training has captured my interest and I aspire to compete in local trials, if Taff turns out to be suitable, so perhaps that will be something I can develop further into the future. I have enjoyed training Taff so far and will definitely train another dog for myself, when the time comes.”