John “Sheepie” Smith, My First Employer

I returned to Shetland in the summer of 1967 fresh from Agricultural College. However, if I wanted to pursue my choice of career in farming I would have to return to the mainland. There were few jobs back home to be had other than the fishing sector and for me that was not an option. A friend of my parents said there was a job going at Jamieson & Smith Shetland Wool Brokers based in Lerwick for the duration of the wool season which would be the end of September. My employer would be John “Sheepie” Smith of Berry Farm, Scalloway and one of Shetland’s most highly respected businessmen. He had been involved with wool since the 1930s and dealt in all types of agricultural produce. He had started his working life as a crofter with one park in his native parish of Sandwick. His father James Smith was married to Isabelle Jamieson. Perhaps a clue as to why the company always retained its name!

John “Sheepie” Smith

Berry Farm is a very fertile farm with green fields and sheltered from the North wind by Berry Hill. It surrounds the village of Scalloway with its ruined castle once home to the infamous Patrick Stewart, Earl of Orkney, Lord of Shetland one of the most notorious figures in the history of the Northern Isles. Berry Farm had a herd of Aberdeen Angus cattle, larger cross bred ewes and in the hill were Shetland sheep.  They also had the island of Papa,lying off – shore from Scalloway, with a flock of smaller native Shetland sheep that survived quite naturally Pride of place on the farm was the Shetland ponies that made up the Berry Stud book famous for its breeding of the miniature pony. The farm workers did not share this love of ponies as they would constantly lean against the fence posts causing them to break and extra work in replacing them.

Scalloway Surrounded by Berry Farm
Berry Farm

The Smith family also owned a large Island between the islands of Fetlar & Unst, called Uyea stocked by the larger cross bred sheep. They also had grazing rights on another smaller Isle near Papa.  In 1933 John Smith purchased a large farm on the outskirts of Aberdeen, (Pitmedden farm) where he would send livestock from Shetland in order to fatten them up and conveniently wait on a favourable market. This was a luxury we do not have in Shetland due to lack of grazing.

The wool handling at Berry Farm was an important part of the family business. Shetland wool was much sought after at that time as was most natural fibre, man- made fibres had yet to come to the fore. Wool brought in good financial returns and also served another more practical purpose at Berry Farm. In the inclement winter months there was little work to be done on the farm. In order to retain his valued work force John Smith had his workers hand sort the wool into various qualities and then sell the sorted wool. This kept his workers employed till the spring and more favourable weather.

John Smith’s knowledge of animals was legendary throughout the U.K. In 1928 he shipped off two Moorit rams to the Castlemilk estates these rams were to play a major part in the establishment of the breed Castlemilk Moorit flock.  An older friend from the Island of Yell in the north of Shetland told me as a young man he was asked by a local merchant to run “sheepie” around the crofts to buy up stock. Running out of cheques he told the young man to go in the shop get some brown paper shop bags where on them he wrote out I.O.U.s to the crofters. Every crofter received their payment on return to Berry Farm, a measure of the man and how he conducted his business.

Harvesting Corn

I recall my first contact with John in 1967 at Berry Farm and all his questions the first one being about how I ended up becoming involved in agriculture coming from Burra Isle, as most men were fishermen. Perhaps he was sizing me up, as later on he employed me full time and I had taken the correct path after all. Only time would tell! Sadly John Smith passed away one year after I joined his company. His son Jim and daughter Eva took on the running of his companies.

Stooking Corn
Baling Hay

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