Green Tree Farm is a smallholding run by Mark and Alison McCandless and their daughters Niamh and Éile. Green Tree Farm specialises in rare-breed Shetland animals and poultry (ponies, cows, sheep, geese, ducks and hens).
We typically have: between 6 and 8 breeding Shetland cows, a bull and follow on including steers which we take through to kill; between 12 and 16 breeding Shetland ewes, a ram and follow on including wethers which we take through to kill as hoggets; two pet ponies ‘Jack’ and ‘Jill’; four breeding pairs of Shetland geese; two trios of Shetland ducks and four quartets of Shetland hens. We also keep two trios of Silver Sebrights.
All of our Shetland animals are bred pure and registered with the relevant Shetland societies and our Shetland poultry- hens, ducks and geese have all been sourced from Mary and Tommy Isbister at Burland Croft in Trondra, Shetland whose declared aim it is ‘to maintain native Shetland breeds of animals, poultry and crops’.
At Green Tree Farm we don’t work down to a price but up to a standard and take great pride in our smallholding.
Why Shetlands for us and maybe you?
I kept poultry, rabbits and goats as a boy growing up back home in Inishowen (Éire) and with both Mum and Dad coming from farming backgrounds I was exposed to that way of life from an early age while visiting Grandparents. Subconsciously I guess I have always longed to have the freedom (and land!) to breed other stock. Indeed our move to Green Tree Farm in October 2008 was partly due to the fact that we knew there was a possibility of renting a paddock next door- it was my only requirement!
By December of the same year we had a quartet of Silver Sebrights and that Christmas bought our first miniature Shetland pony from my Uncle Jack and Auntie Irene back home. As we believed all animals should have company we decided to get some sheep to keep alongside our pony, aptly named Jack. In researching different rare breeds of sheep we came across Shetlands in the RBST (Rare Breeds Survival Trust) magazine and thought how appropriate! Our passion for Shetland’s native domestic animals and poultry developed from there.
Shetlands are beautiful animals and ideal for smallholders as each species is smaller than its counterparts and thrives on poorer grass/fodder. Our experience of Shetland animals also suggests that they are friendly, inquisitive and easily handled – all in all making them ideal for smallholders.
When we started out I guess we were like any other enthusiasts but along the way became converts to these primitive animals and, dare I say it, have become part time farmers! There is something deeply rewarding about good animal husbandry and knowing you are playing a part in conserving rare breeds. Rearing an animal to the point of slaughter and knowing as you sit down to a meal that what you are about to eat is not only incredibly tasty but that the animal has had a good quality of life is also deeply satisfying.
Commercially Shetlands may yet have a point to prove but for smallholders we have not come across a more suitable breed. Not only are they pleasing to the eye, inquisitive and easy to work with but also productive in terms of return in relation to input.
Whether you are a smallholder or backyard enthusiast we would recommend Shetlands as a good starting point.